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An image of Beauty with a cat (Parody of the Third Princess) by Nishikawa School

Nishikawa School

(Japan  – )

Title
Beauty with a cat (Parody of the Third Princess)
Place of origin
Japan
Year
1750s
Media category
Painting
Materials used
hanging scroll; ink, colour and mica on paper
Dimensions

80.0 x 26.0 cm

Credit
D G Wilson Bequest Fund 2009
Accession number
12.2009
Location
Not on display
Further information

Following the lead of her small cat the young girl steps out from behind the bamboo curtains onto the veranda. Extremely cropped on the right border of the painting is a cherry tree in full bloom. Its trunk describes a sharp bow, echoing the curve of the bamboo curtains and the slender body of the girl. While fashion and hairstyle clearly identify the young lady as an Edo period beauty, an educated audience would recognise in this depiction of a beautiful woman an allusion to the Third Princess, one of the female protagonists in the 11th century classic ‘The Tale of Genji’.

The illicit, tragic ending love affair between the Third Princess, Genji’s second wife, and the courtier Kashiwagi was sparked when her pet cat escaped on the veranda and accidentally lifted the bamboo curtain, exposing her to the gaze of the courtier. The key moment of Chapter 34 in the Tale, this scene belongs to one of the most popular Genji motifs, depicted on numerous folding screens, albums and hanging scrolls. 'Ukiyo-e' artists, however, tended to focus on the figure of the princess and her cat, citing the classical theme to imbue the popular genre of 'bijinga', ‘depictions of beautiful women and men’, with a degree of complexity and refinement.

The painting does not bear any signatures and seals, however, the sensual depiction of the beauty’s face and her graceful posture hints at a work by an artist trained in the tradition of Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1751), the most prominent 'ukiyo-e' painter and illustrator working in Kyoto.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, February 2009.

Bibliography (1)

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales Annual Report 2008-09, Sydney, 2009, 24 (colour illus.).