Beauty in a White Kimono
Japanese (active c. 1790–1800)
Edo period (1615–1868)
Hanging scroll; ink and mineral pigments on paper
48 13/16 x 10 3/8 in. (124 x 26.3 cm)
Currently On View
This decorative hanging scroll shows a courtesan, who pauses to glance seductively over her left shoulder, proudly displaying her magnificent white kimono and outer cloak, which are designed in a variety of delicate geometric patterns. The snowflake pattern of the kimono is produced by a tie-dying technique, while the outer robe is brocaded with a pattern of quadruple lozenges evocative of ice crystals. The red sash that ties in front features a diaper pattern in gold, called sayagata, and indicates the figure’s youth and high rank as a courtesan. A thin strand of hair dangling against the courtesan’s cheek is an informal touch that contrasts gently with the perfect formality of her dress and adds to the seductive appeal of the painting. Paintings of courtesans displayed the latest styles of dress among the fashion-conscious ladies of the pleasure quarters, and they sometimes refer to specific events or special festival days. The all-white costume in this painting was worn only in Edo (Tokyo) on hassaku, the first day of the eighth lunar month, which was known as the “eighth-month snow” or “fall snow.” The courtesans of the Yoshiwara district in Edo wore white on that day to commemorate the first time, in 1590, that the Generalissimo Tokugawa Ieyasu (died 1616) entered Edo.