The artist Kawanabe Kyōsai was known during his lifetime for his political satire, artistic skill and eccentricity. Although trained in the established Utagawa and Kanō schools, the artist worked independently and produced some of the most imaginative images of the late Edo and early Meiji periods. Kyōsai was primarily a painter but also designed exceptional prints. He was a close friend and teacher of the English architect Josiah Conder (1852–1920) who lived in Japan from 1877 until his death.
The Hell Courtesan (Jigoku-dayū) derives from legends of a 15th-century woman who dressed in robes decorated with images of the Buddhist hells. One of the most recognisable figures of supernatural Japan, she was a devout Buddhist whose faith was inspired by the Zen monk Ikkyū of the same period. Ikkyū is still much admired in Japan for his anti-establishment behaviour. In this painting Ikkyū is shown dancing on a skull.
Place where the work was made
Meiji period 1868 - 1912 → Japan
early 1880s-mid 1880s
hanging scroll: ink, metallic pigments, and colour on silk
54.6 x 98.1 cm image; 168.0 x 124.0 cm overall (including roller)
Signature & date
Signed: Seisei Kyōsai
Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation purchase, with funds from the Jean Milner and Mary Tancred bequests, 2019
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 2 exhibitions
Heaven and Hell: Salvation and Retribution in Pure Land Buddhism, San Antonio Museum of Art, 16 Jun 2017–10 Sep 2017
Japan Supernatural, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 02 Nov 2019–08 Mar 2020
Referenced in 3 publications
Narazaki Muneshige, Famous Choice Paintings ('Meisaku-sen'), Ukiyo-e Paintings ('Nikuhitsu ukiyo-e'), Tokyo, 1983, p. 73. fig. 7. Listed as lost and re-photographed from 1928 catalog
Emily Sano, Heaven and Hell: Salvation and Retribution in Pure Land Buddhism, San Antonio, 2017, 99 (colour illus.). pl. 46
Yasumura Toshinobu, ‘Bessatsu Taiyo' ('Kawanabe Kyōsai: Kiso no tensai eshi' [Kawanabe Kyōsai: demon of painting], 'Kisō no honryū eshi' (Master of the Eccentric and Weird), Tokyo, 2008, pp. 12, 13.