In a moment of relaxation, maybe awaiting the arrival of a client, an elegant courtesan sits leaning back with her left arm resting on a fancy red-lacquered table. In front of her is a set of books, perhaps more for show than for actual reading, held in a blue cotton wrapper with a gold paper label. Her dark gray outer summer kimono is dyed with a very discreet design of small spring or early-summer plants, with a single, deep blue-black cherry blossom visible at the left shoulder. The folds of the kimono are depicted using extremely fine gold lines, accentuated in places by thicker black lines. Her green obi, tied at the front in the manner customary for courtesans from the pleasure quarters, is dyed with stylized plum blossoms, again with gold lines delineating the folds.
The courtesan’s outer kimono has slipped from her shoulders to reveal a colorful undergarment patterned in the kanoko shibori technique, attained by twisting and then tying tiny areas of silk with thread prior to dyeing; when each tying thread is later removed, it leaves a small white circle with a dyed dot in the center. Often, as faithfully reproduced here, the tying process allows a little dye to penetrate the tied area so that the circle is not perfectly white. The elaborately tasseled sheer silk fan held in the courtesan’s right hand gives the artist an opportunity to demonstrate his great skill in depicting her neck as seen through the translucent fabric. All of the details, including the delicate handling of the facial features, are reminiscent of Eiryū’s master Chōbunsai Eishi (1756–1829), whose courtesan in a painting in the Kosetsu Museum of Art, Kobe, adopts the same pose as the present example.
In addition to the very high quality of the painting itself, this scroll is notable for the fabric selected for the chūmawashi, the area of the mount surrounding the main image. Made from a figured silk weave and decorated using yūzen rice-paste-resist- and tie-dyeing as well as embroidery, the chūmawashi—cut from a length of fabric of about the same date as the painting, and originally intended for a kimono—depicts classical seashore motifs including fishermen’s nets, huts with evaporation kilns used to make salt, and stylized seashells. All of these elements are depicted against an undyed background in the shape of a giant wave, partially obscured by the painting. Above the painting, three chidori (plovers) fly past. The lower halves of the two fūtai, the silk ribbons hanging from the top of the mounting, are dyed in the same technique as the courtesan’s undergarment in the painting, while the upper halves were cut from a length of material with the same wave motif as the chūmawashi.
Nakamura Eiryū, who also used the name Katsudō, is known for three prints published during the Kansei era (1789–1801), as well as for several ukiyo-e paintings.