Art Acquisitions

Utagawa Toyokuni I (初代歌川豊国)
(Japanese, 1769–1825)
Portrait of a High-ranking Samurai, ca. 1803
Japanese, Edo period (1600–1868)
Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk
Painting: 42.9 × 65.1 cm
Mount: 129.5 × 99.4 cm
Acquired in 2014; Museum purchase, Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund and Gift of the P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art, 2014-44

Utagawa Toyokuni I is known primarily as a designer of woodblock prints known as ukiyo-e, or pictures of the floating world, because they often depicted urban pleasure districts. The most famous denizens of these districts—actors, courtesans, writers, and wealthy merchants—feature prominently in portrait prints made by ukiyo-e artists. However, this group of artists rarely painted formal portraits, and depictions of samurai, like this example, were extremely unusual. Although the samurai’s identity is now unknown, he clearly was an important figure. His facial features are carefully rendered with extremely fine brushstrokes, and the quality of the pigments used in the work—rich cobalt blue shot with mica as well as gold pigment, which delineates the folds of the fabric—demonstrate that this was a very expensive commission.