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Asian art

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Merrymaking in the Yoshiwara

mid 17th century


Unknown Artist


This rare and exquisitely painted screen, full of detail and sensitive observation, illustrates the elite at play in the pleasure quarters. It is an early example of the distinctive 'ukiyo-e' tradition. The term 'ukiyo-e', literally translated as the 'floating world', was originally a Buddhist expression used to describe the sadly irrelevant and transient nature of the material world and our life on earth. By the seventeenth century Japan's medieval samurai-based culture was being superseded by a newly emergent mercantile class. 'Ukiyo-e' came to define a whole tradition inspired by the colourful lives and times enjoyed by these townspeople, 'chônin', in the pleasure quarters and entertainment districts. Here in a series of vignettes, a picture of the pleasure quarters unfolds: the activities of drinking, taking tea, playing games, listening to music, reading and chatting are all illustrated.

Art Gallery Handbook, 1999. pg. 275.


Other Title

Merrymaking in the garden

Place where the work was made



mid 17th century

Media category


Materials used

single six-panel screen; colour and gold leaf on paper


74.0 x 201.4 cm image; 87.2 x 214.4 cm screen

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased 1986


Not on display

Accession number



Where the work was made

Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 8 publications


AJIOKA Chiaki (Curator), Heroes and villains: from Japan's floating world, Sydney, May 2001, 7. 3.1

Gary Hickey, Beauty & desire in Edo period Japan, 'Low City, High City', pg. 7-12, Parkes, 1998, 8 (colour illus.), 70. 2

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Asian Collection: East Asia', pg. 246-287, Sydney, 1999, 275 (colour illus.).

Jackie Menzies, Orientations, 'Japanese Figure Painting: From the Public to the Personal', pg. 114-119, Hong Kong, Sep 2000, 115 (colour illus.). fig.2

Jackie Menzies, AGNSW Collections, 'Asian Art - India, South-East Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan', pg. 173-228, Sydney, 1994, 223 (colour illus.).

Jackie Menzies, The Floating World: Japan's world of transient pleasures, Sydney, 1994, (colour illus.). M1

Jacqueline Menzies, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Asian', pg. 72-93, Sydney, 1988, 84-85 (colour illus.).

Public Programmes Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales and The Japan Foundation (Editors), Art speaks Japanese: Japanese language education kit from the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2007, colour illus.. card no. 06