Women have been well represented as a subject in Japanese art: they are portrayed for their beauty; for their talents in literature, music, and dance; and sometimes as female deities. While most of the women are shown from the perspective of a male gaze, these representations also provide us with a glimpse of the dynamic aspects of women’s lives.
The earliest and most influential work of Japanese literature—The Tale of Genji—was written in the early 11th century by a woman known as Lady Murasaki Shikibu. The tale has captured the imagination of many with its accounts of the intrigues of courtly life and has had a profound impact on visual culture in Japan for more than a thousand years. On view in this gallery are examples of Genji pictures in various formats—folding screens, hanging scrolls, album leaves—all of which attest to the lasting appeal of the saga. Also on view are paintings of working women, as well as prints, kimono, and lacquerware that showcase women’s self-fashioning in daily life.
Image: Three Geisha: Kayo of Osaka, Hitotsuru of Kyoto, and Kokichi of Tokyo, 1877, Kobayashi Kiyochika, woodblock print (oban tate-e); ink and color with metallic pigments, 14¼ x 9½ in. Asian Art Acquisition Fund, 2013.10.1.