Re: When is a beauty not a beauty?

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Posted by Matt Door on September 27, 2002 at 23:14:34:

In Reply to: Re: When is a beauty not a beauty? posted by John Fiorillo on September 25, 2002 at 22:14:06:

I think Dick and John are both right in a sense, depending on how one defines Bijin-ga.

The later Hiroshige bijin I've seen have generally been women in a landscape, such as women walking before the Sumida river, one to a panel, or women walking with umbrellas in the snow. These are bijin prints by some definitions, though I find this kind of print as often in the fukeiga piles in Japanese galleries.

The kind of bijin print that Hiroshige did earlier in his career does seem clearly different from these, being prints in which women were the sole focus. He also tended to depict courtesans much more in his early work than in the late.

So I would generally agree that Hiroshige did bijin-ga work throughout his career, but note that the mid-late period works were not usually self-identified as bijin work (in the title for example "tosei bijin awase" toka...) The real issue here may simply be that the definition of bijin-ga expanded during Hiroshige's lifetime, as in Kunisada's (earlier but somewhat similar) triptychs of women in the snow, or in landscapes, which invariably end up in the bijin-ga pile!

(What's in a name, huh?)

: Hello, Dick,

: I don't think this is just a matter of disagreeing about what we mean by 'bijin-ga'. There are numerous examples of bijin-ga by Hiroshige throughout his career, even if we limit the definition by saying 'bijin-ga' are pictures of beautiful women in which they are unquestionably the primary focus of the composition.

: Besides various single-sheet designs, there are also triptychs by Hiroshige showing bijin as the primary subject, often one figure dominating each sheet, very much in the manner (or at least partly derived from) Eizan, Eisen, Toyokuni, and Kunisada bijin. Many of these date from the 1840s-50s. These subjects are unambiguously 'bijin-ga'. They are shown with the usual array of settings: walking on bridges, cooling down by a river, promenading in the towns, relaxing on balconies, and so on. I don't see any way to exclude these from the canon of 'bijin-ga'.

: Hiroshige designed 'bijin-ga' in various formats. See, for example, his 'uchiwa-e' (fan prints) in the recent publication by Faulkner (Hiroshige Fan Prints). Plates 116-118 show 'okubi-e' of single beauties performing 'mitate' of the Sanbas˘ dance from a series in 1855, late in Hiroshige's career. Again, clearly bijin. There are many other examples in other formats that focus exclusively on beautiful women as the subject.

: In addition, if we stretch the definition a bit (but legitimately), there are countless designs that combine bijin subjects with other themes, simultaneously offering two or more primary genres. I think we might all agree that a series of actors placed before the stations along the T˘kaid˘ are both views along the T˘kaid˘ and portraits of actors, so I don't understand how one might argue convincingly that beauties set against views of Fuji or the 60-odd Provinces are not 'bijin-ga'. Rather, in my opinion, they would be both 'meisho-e' and 'bijin-ga', and I believe the Edo-period Japanese saw them as such. I would agree that if the figures were proportionately quite small and merely incidental to a scene, then we would have primarily a 'meisho-e'. However, this is not the case with many Hiroshige designs where the figures of the women stand prominently in the foreground, and in which their attractive figures, postures, attitudes, clothing, hairstyles, etc. are central aspects of the design. Thus such compositions would be both 'meisho-e' and 'bijin-ga'.

: In any case, even if we were, for the sake of argument, to exclude designs that combined themes, there are still, unequivocally, easily identifiable single-theme 'bijin-ga' by Hiroshige throughout his career.

: By the way, what, exactly, did Stewart say in his book? I don't have the reference immediately available.

: John

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