Asia Society

Katsukawa Shunshō: Luxury Paintings for the Elite

Beauty Reading a Letter
Katsukawa Shunshō (d. 1792)
Beauty Reading a Letter
ca. 1783–84
Hanging scroll; ink, color, gold, and silver on silk
92.3 x 35 cm
John C. Weber Collection

A courtesan stands in deshabille, engrossed in a long letter from an admirer. The forward tilt of her head, her open, vulnerable expression, and the fact that she stands absentmindedly on the hem of her robe suggest that she is lost in thought.

Shunshō includes an inscription above his signature saying that he was commissioned to do a work in the style of Bunkadō (the Kyoto ukiyo-e artist Nishikawa Sukenobu, 1671–1750), but that he is unsure of the appropriate fashions, claiming modestly that he is not up to the task.

Celebrated as the leading artist of kabuki prints during the 1770s, Shunshō later turned to producing paintings of beautiful women. It is said that his scrolls were so highly prized that they cost “a thousand pieces of gold.”

Photo: © John Bigelow Taylor