Dream Worlds

Beauty Personified

The vast majority of female images in pre-modern Japanese prints and paintings take as their subject women of the pleasure quarters.

In a society that prized the enigmatic, portraiture did not have a strong artistic tradition. The world of the brothel provided access to unguarded moments wherein artists could observe an unfettered range of female moods. Whether or not they can be truly described as portraits, these pre-modern studies of beauties explored, with varying degrees of skill, the depiction of a somewhat restricted range of emotions—wistful longing, crafty plotting, coyness, resignation. Revivalists such as Hashiguchi Goyō (1880-1921) and Itō Shinsui (1898-1972) maintained an interest in traditional subject matter, thereby preserving that perspective well into the twentieth century.

Given these origins, artistic approaches to depicting women of the modern era remained, at their foundation, unavoidably erotic. Thus, the twentieth-century audience expected an inevitable, mild eroticism in images of women. The nostalgic agenda of shin hanga artists was largely unaffected by real social changes.

In the twentieth century women joined the urban workforce in vast numbers and, particularly in the 1910s and 1920s, enjoyed an unprecedented degree of social freedom. Artists who chronicled this new creature often found it difficult to depict her without alluding to her compromised moral foundation.

 

 


 

Explore this exhibition


Woodblock print of two men. one playing flute-like instrument

(Artist) Tsukioka Yoshitoshi; Japan; 1883; Woodblock print; ink and color on paper; H x W (image): 35.5 x 70 cm (14 x 27 9/16 in); Purchase–Dr. Carol Master, Mr. and Mrs. Willard G. Clark, and Dr. and Mrs. Robert S. Feinberg

Protected: Stage Presence


woman holding yellow flower

(Artist) Kajita Hanko; (Publisher) Hakubunkan; Japan; 1905; Woodblock print; ink and color on paper; H x W (image): 22.5 x 31 cm (8 7/8 x 12 3/16 in); Robert O. Muller Collection

Protected: Beauty Personified

woman holding yellow flower

(Artist) Kajita Hanko; (Publisher) Hakubunkan; Japan; 1905; Woodblock print; ink and color on paper; H x W (image): 22.5 x 31 cm (8 7/8 x 12 3/16 in); Robert O. Muller Collection

Introduction