A rare Japanese Nagasaki school scroll painting, Kakemono, attributed to Ishizaki Yũshi (1768-1846)
Edo period, early 19th century
H. 98 x W. 57 cm (watercolour)
H. 185 x W. 69.5 (scroll)
Ink and colour on paper, depicting two Dutch merchants conversing with two high-ranking prostitutes, oiran. The Dutchmen wearing long coats and stylised tricorn hats, the two keisei (prostitutes) with elegant kimonos, adorned with foliate designs, their elaborate hairstyles featuring multiple ornaments.
With inscription above reading ‘Buddha sells doctrine, Patriarchs sell Buddha,
Priest of the degenerate ages sell Patriarchs, and Thou sell thy body of five foot, thus satisfying the worldly desires of all creatures’ and a poem reading ‘the moon frequents nightly the surface of the pond, but does not leave behind its heart nor its shadow.’
With two seal marks for Ho and Setuchi.
Strange-looking Westerners and their odd garments were a favoured subject in Japanese art, on ceramics, in paintings, prints and netsuke. The Japanese word for prostitute is ‘keisei’, and possibly the Dutch living on Deshima corrupted that Japanese word to ‘keesje’, for prostitute, and ‘kezen’, for making love, as depicted in
the Japanese shunga, or ‘spring pictures.’ For a scroll of shunga, erotic pictures of Dutchmen and Japanese women engaged in sex at the Dutch trading post of Deshima, see Zebregs&Röell, Kawahara Keiga studio paintings, Maastricht, June 2020, pg 102-111.
The present scroll is illustrated and discussed in Sidney L. Moss, Odd Men Out, pp. 34-35, no.7, where the author explains that this painting is a mitate-e or ‘parody picture’ because of the provocative signature. The inscription refers to the Great Zen Priest Takuan (1573-1645), a famous painter and the 153rd abbot of the Daitokuji temple in Kyoto. The idea of a priest producing such a sacrilegious painting is certainly irreverent and provocative.