Kanbun bijin, or “Beauty of the Kanbun Era,” is a generic name given to paintings of a woman standing against a neutral background. The tall woman wears her hair in an elaborate style called gosho-mage, or “palace chignon.” The designs on her outer kosode include areas of “fawn-spot” tie-dyeing interspersed with flower patterns, while decorated underlayers are also visible. Around the Kanbun period (1661–73) the width of the obi sash was still quite narrow.
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Title:Beauty of the Kanbun Era
Period:Edo period (1615–1868)
Date:late 17th century
Medium:Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on paper
Dimensions:Image: 24 1/8 × 9 5/8 in. (61.3 × 24.4 cm) Overall with mounting: 55 × 15 7/16 in. (139.7 × 39.2 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Kanbun bijin (Kanbun Beauties) refers to paintings of women standing alone against a neutral background. This painting is typical of the genre. The tall, slender woman, her hair dressed in an elaborate style called gosho mage (palace chignon), covers her face in a coy gesture resembling a dance pose. Three layers of brilliantly designed robes contrast with and serve to accentuate her delicate beauty.
The term "Kanbun Beauty" was not limited to paintings executed during the Kanbun era (1661–72); this scroll probably dates to a slightly later period. The designs on the outer garment include areas of tie-dyed pattern interspersed with painted designs, perhaps reflecting the new fashion that became popular after a sumptuary law of 1683 banned the use of overall tie-dyed fabrics.
Kanbun bijin evolved from earlier group portraits of women of the pleasure quarters, as part of a general trend in genre painting. Sprawling compositions, such as rakuchū-rakugai screens in which the entire city of Kyoto and its environs are shown (cat. no. 139), were gradually replaced by less elaborate compositions that focused on indoor scenes within the brothel districts or theaters, subjects popular with the affluent merchant patrons of the arts.
Single-figure studies of women may have been painted and mounted on hanging scrolls to be sold to patrons as mementos of their visits. Prints of courtesans and actors were mass-produced by artists of the Torii and Kaigetsudō schools (cat. nos. 146, 147), who must have been inspired by paintings like this one.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
[I] Narazaki Muneshige 1969, p. 26.
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Japanese Art: Selections from the Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," November 7, 1975–January 4, 1976.
Seattle Art Museum. "Japanese Art: Selections from the Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," March 10–May 1, 1977.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. "Japanese Art: Selections from the Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," June 1–July 17, 1977.
Tokyo National Museum. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," May 21, 1985–June 30, 1985.
Nagoya City Art Museum. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," August 17, 1985–September 23, 1985.
Atami. MOA Museum of Art. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," September 29, 1985–October 27, 1985.
Hamamatsu City Museum of Art. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," November 12, 1985–December 1, 1985.
New York. Asia Society. "Art of Japan: Selections from the Burke Collection, pts. I and II," October 2, 1986–February 22, 1987.
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. "Die Kunst des Alten Japan: Meisterwerke aus der Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," September 16, 1990–November 18, 1990.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Japanese Art from The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 30–June 25, 2000.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Turning Point: Oribe and the Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan," October 21, 2003–January 11, 2004.
Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," July 5, 2005–August 19, 2005.
Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 4, 2005–December 11, 2005.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," January 24, 2006–March 5, 2006.
Miho Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 15, 2006–June 11, 2006.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 20, 2015–May 14, 2017.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Kimono Style: The John C. Weber Collection," June 4, 2022–February 20, 2023.
Tsuji Nobuo 辻惟雄, Mary Griggs Burke, Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha 日本経済新聞社, and Gifu-ken Bijutsukan 岐阜県美術館. Nyūyōku Bāku korekushon-ten: Nihon no bi sanzennen no kagayaki ニューヨーク・バーク・コレクション展 : 日本の美三千年の輝き(Enduring legacy of Japanese art: The Mary Griggs Burke collection). Exh. cat. [Tokyo]: Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha, 2005, cat. no. 81.
Murase, Miyeko, Il Kim, Shi-yee Liu, Gratia Williams Nakahashi, Stephanie Wada, Soyoung Lee, and David Sensabaugh. Art Through a Lifetime: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection. Vol. 1, Japanese Paintings, Printed Works, Calligraphy. [New York]: Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, , p. 202, cat. no. 225.
Carpenter, John T. The Poetry of Nature: Edo Paintings from the Fishbein-Bender Collection. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018, p. 177, fig. 50.
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