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Asian art

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Portrait of a standing courtesan



Utagawa Toyoharu


1735 - 1814


Toyoharu was the founder of the Utagawa school, a school of 'ukiyo-e' that was to dominate the late 1700s into the 1800s. As with many 'ukiyo-e' masters, biographical details on him are scant. He produced many prints, pioneering the use of perspective in his landscape prints. In the 1780s he turned to paintings of courtesans of which this is an extraordinary example. The subject is a high-class courtesan, yet its unusual scale would indicate it was created for a special patron or teahouse proprietor who avidly admired the girl. She is sumptuously dressed in between-season robes, boldly decorated with the classic pairing of phoenix and dragon. The distinctive hairdo with its wide side flanges and many combs and ornamental hairpins dates the work to the 1780s, when such hairstyles were the vogue.

The Asian Collections, AGNSW, 2003, pg.252.


Other Title

Portrait of a standing courtesan (Tayû)

Place where the work was made




Media category


Materials used

hanging scroll; ink and colour on silk


161.5 x 84.2 cm image; 274.0 x 105.5 x 117.5 cm scroll

Signature & date

Signed l.r., in Japanese, ink [inscribed] "Tôto Utagawa Toyoharu zu-shi [painted by Utagawa Toyoharu of the Eastern Capital (Edo)]" [and two artist's seals]. Not dated.


Purchased with funds provided by Kenneth Myer 1990


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Utagawa Toyoharu

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 4 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 7 publications


Julie Nelson Davis, The golden journey: Japanese art from Australian collections, ''Doing everything for effect': performing beauty in ukiyo-e of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries', pg. 152-169, South Australia, 2009, 153 (colour illus.), 311 (colour illus.).

Gary Hickey, Beauty & desire in Edo period Japan, 'Pleasure Town', pg. 25-36, Parkes, 1998, 28 (colour illus.), 70. 21

Jackie Menzies, The Floating World: Japan's world of transient pleasures, Sydney, 1994, cover (colour illus.). C28

Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'The Floating World', Sydney, 2003, 252 (colour illus.).

Jackie Menzies, Orientations, 'Japanese Figure Painting: From the Public to the Personal', pg. 114-119, Hong Kong, Sep 2000, 118 (colour illus.). fig.8

Jackie Menzies and Edmund Capon AM, OBE, Asian Collection Handbook, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Japanese Painting', pg. 53-69, Sydney, 1990, 54, 65 (colour illus.).

Tadashi Kobayashi, Imaging the floating world: Essays on ukiyoe prints and paintings of the Edo period, Bunkyo-ku, 2009, 104 (colour illus.).