Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Beauty Playing a Shamisen

Edo period (1615–1868)
second quarter of the 17th century
Remounted section of a screen; ink and color on paper
Image: 24 7/16 x 29 1/8 in. (62.1 x 74 cm) Overall with mounting: 66 3/4 x 29 15/16 in. (169.5 x 76 cm) Overall with rollers: 66 3/4 x 32 3/8 in. (169.5 x 82.2 cm)
Credit Line:
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929
Accession Number:
Not on view
At one time part of a larger composition, perhaps of outdoor merrymaking, this image of a woman plucking a samisen captures the pathos that underlies a scene of pleasure. The three-stringed lute, adapted from an instrument imported from the Ryūkū Islands in the mid-sixteenth century, was associated with the Edo-period world of pleasure quarters and theater.

Although the work is badly damaged, the delicate drawing—especially the hands, face, and hair—admirably conveys emotion and character. Both the drawing and the style of the hair and robe point to the second quarter of the seventeenth century, when entertainers were portrayed in genre scenes, prior to the emergence of isolated images of beauties in the late seventeenth century.
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