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Archive: Yûrakusai 有樂齋 (Nagahide 長秀)

Beauty walking across an eight-plank bridge zig-zagging among water irises; Osaka
Urakusai ga
No Artist Seal
Hi (possibly Yama-Hi)
Circa mid 1810s
(H x W)
Hashira nishiki-e
59.0 x 9.5 cm
Very good
Fair color (fading of some pigments); good condition (slight soil; slight trimming; small paper repair left edge above top hairpin; horizontal centerfold where the two sheets are joined)
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry (Ref #NGH01)


Hashira-e (pillar prints) are said to have derived from the wider habahiro hashira-e size, composed of two planks of cherrywood joined along adjacent vertical edges. The glued blocks sometimes separated or warped asymmetrically, producing cracks in the designs, while some blocks separated altogether. Nevertheless, publishers still issued the severely cropped designs. When they proved popular enough, hashira-e became a standard format.

Bijin-ga (prints of beautiful women) are rare enough in Osaka printmaking; those done in the hashira format are almost unknown, with only a handful of designs whose surviving impressions are exceedingly difficult to find.


The narrow confines of hashira were a challenge to composition, but artists devised clever ways to overcome the limitations imposed by the restrictive framework. Nagahide depicts the bijin in a conventional but charming pose found elsewhere in eighteenth-nineteenth century ukiyo-e, though overwhelmingly by Edo printmakers — upper torso leaning forward, head turned coquettishly to one side, one slim leg striding past the other, and a delicate hand lifting the outer robe (here patterned in kasuri or "splashed-pattern" style) to reveal an alluring ankle or bit of leg.

The beauty's uchiwa (rigid fan) has a design of a dog painted in Shijô style. She is walking on a low-lying bridge of wooden planks called yatsuhashi ("eight bridges"), a name possibly derived from an episode involving a bridge zig-zagging over an ayame (iris) marsh described in the Ise monogatari (Tales of Ise; tenth century). The wild kakitsubata (water irises, one of the many species of ayame) also have centuries-old literary associations based on such classics as the Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji; early eleventh century). This array of natural and constructed forms and gestures was meant to convey a feeling of timelessness, a subtle mitate-e (analogue picture) comparing the present-day bijin with the beauty of nature and the emotional resonance of traditional Japanese literature and poetry.

The signature Urakusai was an alternate (artist name) for Nagahide. The reverse side of the print bears the seal of a collector, which reads Shiba.


Okada (a celebrated private Japanese collection not seen in public for more than 70 years until its recent dispersal — a blockbuster event in the world of kamigata-e; see KAM in Bibliography).

References: KAM, no. 118.