Morokoshi of the Echizenya, maids Ayano and Orino (Echizenya uchi Ayano Orino)

Color woodblock print: ōban tate-e, 15¼ x 10 in. (38.7 x 25.4 cm); 1794, Series: Array of Supreme Portraits of the Present Day (Tōji zensei nigao-zoro-e), Signed: Utamaro hitsu, Publisher: Wakasaya Yoichi, Provenance: Charles Haviland (1832–1896), sold Estampes Japonaises (first sale), Hotel Drouot, Paris, 1922, lot 291, Andre Spoerry (1891–1940), and by descent, Private American Collection

This print belongs to a set of ten depicting three-quarter length views of the high-ranking courtesans of the Yoshiwara. The series is discussed in Asano and Clark, where the authors note that this is the only known impression of the first edition, before the title of the series was changed.1 The first state of six prints of the set employed this series title before it was altered. The authors speculate that the change was made because these are not specific portraits, but rather types of beauties. The series title of the last four prints of the set, and the second edition of the first six prints, was then changed to read Array of Supreme Beauties of the Present Day (Tōji zensei bijin-zoro-e).

Morokoshi was a zashiki-mochi—a woman who had her own parlor room in which she could entertain—in the brothel owned by Echizenya Kishirōin Edo-chō, 1-chōme. She sits on the floor wearing a plaid kimono beneath a translucent black robe embroidered with the ivy leaves that formed her establishment’s emblem. The motif is repeated on her obi. In her hand she carries a rigid paper fan decorated with flowering pinks and a poem by Kashiwagitei Saonaga that plays on Morokoshi’s name which means “China.” It may be translated as follows:

The morning after
how sad the parting
of three thousand leagues—
she a “China Girl,”
her clients from Japan.2

When the names of the courtesans and their kamurō (maids) are compared with existing guidebooks to the Yoshiwara red-light district, the only time they line up is Spring edition of 1794, implying that the prints were probably prepared during the previous winter. The change in title probably took place a little later in the year.

As might be expected from a first edition the paper employed is of the highest quality and the impression is particularly fine. Details of the ribs of the fan and the Chinese key-fret pattern on the collar of her robe are rendered in blind-printing (karazuri), and, using a special printing technique, her plaid under-robe is visible beneath her outer robe. The Haviland copy is referred to in the Utamaro catalog cited above, but at the time of publication its whereabouts was unknown.

Charles Haviland was an American who moved to France to work in his uncle’s porcelain factory in Limoges. Completely swept up in the vogue for Japonisme in the late nineteenth century Paris, he assembled a large and important collection of Japanese works of art that was sold by his family in a series of auctions during the 1920s at the Hotel Druout. This print was included in the first part of the sale, where it was described as “Superbe estampes, en parfait ètat.” The purchaser Andre Spoerry apparently came from Mulhouse in Alsace. Attracted to Japanese art, he purchased numerous works in the Haviland sales. After his death in Zurich in 1940 the collection passed to his family. When the descendants of Spoerry sold his collection in 2018, this print was offered together with a 20th century reproduction of a print by Torii Kiyomine published by Watanabe and Co. of Tokyo.

    1. Asano Shūgo and Timothy Clark. 1995. The Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro. Exh. Cat. (London: British Museum Press for the Trustees of the British Museum), p. 133, no. 140.
    2. Ibid.
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