Smiling Geisha Holding a Sake Cup

Hanging scroll: ink and light color on silk woven with a keyfret design, 36¼ x 14 in. (92.1 x 35.6 cm); Koka/Kaei eras, 1844–1854
Signed: Toyokuni ga
Artist’s seal: Toyokuni-Sada in
Poem signed: Takurō; sealed: Kozan 

Throughout his long life Kunisada often participated in poetry and painting parties (shogakkai). Famous from early in his career, the artist used such occasions to meet friends, mingle with other celebrities from the worlds of art, theater, and literature, interact with clients and business colleagues, associate with patrons, and demonstrate his skills in public. His contribution would have been on-the-spot paintings on fans, or on odd scraps of paper and silk. Attendees would receive these as tokens of esteem on payment of a fee that passed to the organizer. Some of these meets were grand occasions while others were smaller, more intimate affairs. Judging from the poem and inscription by Takurō inscribed here, with its theme of the Sumida River in moonlight, this impromptu painting was made for one such intimate occasion. A smartly dressed and smiling female entertainer is about to enjoy a porcelain cup of sake at a festive gathering during, or just after, a summer moon-viewing excursion on the river. Of note is the way Kunisada has employed the woven surface of the textile known as rinzu, a silk-satin damask commonly used for kimono in the Edo period, to suggest the pattern of the woman’s robes.

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