Geisha in her Dressing Room (Mijimai geisha)

Color woodblock print: ōban tate-e, 15½ x 10⅜ in. (39.4 x 26.4 cm); circa 1829
Series: Contest of Modern Beauties (Tōsei bijin awase)
Signed: Gototei Kunisada ga
Censor’s seal: kiwame (approved)
Publisher: Moritaya Hanzō

Women in front of makeup mirrors was a theme first explored by ukiyo-e artists in the eighteenth century, with many extant examples by Kitagawa Utamaro and others. Here, the presence of the makeup stand is implied rather than visible, its only indication being the small porcelain cup with white powder at bottom left. This beautiful woman is checking the application of her skin powder in a hand mirror held behind her, which reveals the nape of her neck—considered a highly erogenous zone in Edo Japan for its resemblance to the shape of Mount Fuji. In this way, Kunisada has simultaneously provided the viewer with both of this city geisha’s most attractive sides. She seems to be preparing to go out on assignment; her shamisen is carefully packed in a wrapping cloth, along with extra strings in a round box as depicted in the fan-shaped cartouche above her, next to the title cartouche.

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