From Harunobu to Utamaro, ukiyo-e artists were enchanted by the mysterious and illusory world of the Yoshiwara, Edo's licensed brothel district. Despite a shadowed reality, these women became the epitome of beauty, elegance and fashion in 18th century Japan. In the exhibition Courtesans of the Yoshiwara, Ronin Gallery is pleased to present twelve masterpieces by the luminary artists of the 18th century. The selected works by Harunobu, Utamaro, etc, capture the irresistible allure of storied beauties, but also reveal the evolution of the courtesan in the ukiyo-e. Through exquisitely coloring, dynamic design, deluxe printing effects, and a psychological sensitivity to their subjects, these artists explore the elusive world of the courtesan.
The culture of Edo’s Floating World revolved around the fleeting earthly delights. The Yoshiwara, Edo’s legalized prostitution district, provided a principal pleasure of this realm. This demimonde offered the beautiful, the sensual and the physical, inviting its visitors into an all-consuming fantasy of love, lust, or simply entrancing beauty. Patrons were required to travel across land and water; ripe with anticipation by the time they arrived. This mysterious world operated by its own rules, developing its own dialect, festivals, and even conception of time. With 120 minutes in every hour, “in the Yoshiwara, even the clock tells lies.”
Though educated in etiquette, conversation and the arts, even the highest-ranking courtesan was a prisoner, unable to escape the crushing debt of her purchase price. Yet, ukiyo-e masters found an endless font of inspiration in these captive beauties. Romanticized renditions of these women came to dominate the genre of bijin-ga, or pictures of beautiful women. Through the course of the 18th century, the printed courtesan shifts from a youthful, idealized beauty to a slender individual, with an inner life. The exhibition presents a carefully curated peek into the realm of these women as imagined by the some of the greatest minds of the ukiyo-e tradition.
The highlight of this exhibition is an exceptionally rare pink mica ground Utamaro titled Wakaume of the Tamaya. In Paris this past spring, a similar pink mica portrait by Utamaro set a world record price for a Japanese print at auction. Wakaume was the zashiki-mochi, or "having-her-own-suite" rank in the Yoshiwara's Tamaya brothel. The rich pink mica ground adds to the elegance of this high-ranking beauty and this exquisite composition. This work is a definitive masterpiece of Utamaro: other impressions can be found in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Honolulu Academy of Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago, to name but a few. In addition to this stunning print, this exhibition includes other courtesan portraits by Utamaro, as well as works by Harunobu, Eishi, Kiyonaga and Koryusai.
About Ronin Gallery
The Ronin Gallery is a leading family-owned Japanese and East Asian art gallery in New York City and home to the largest private collection of 17th–21st century Japanese prints for sale in the United States. Founded in 1975 in the Explorers Club Mansion of New York City, the gallery is now located on Madison Avenue and 49th Street. For more information about the gallery and to access the gallery’s online exhibits, visit: http://roningallery.com/