Women and East Asian Art

Geisha Reading, Holding a Hair Pick in Her Hand

By Kyra Samony

The eighteenth-century Japanese work, Geisha reading, holding a hair pick in her hand, does not have an attributed artist. The artwork is in the Trout Gallery, allowing viewing in person upon request. The medium is woodblock print on paper. The geisha in the work is depicted in a beautiful, colorful ensemble. The woman is using her lively clothing to represent or convey a message about herself.

A geisha is loosely defined as a Japanese female performer, similar to a Chinese courtesan. The geishas are often dressed in beautiful garments and hairstyles to emphasize and enhance their own natural beauty[1]. The geisha’s garment is vibrant, made up of green, blue, and cream, yellow, orange tones. It has patterns of webbing, dots, bold lines and foliage. The fabric is long and flowing, forming piles on the ground where she sits, which helps create a sense of space. It is easily the focus of the piece, as it is also the only colorful region, it draws the viewer’s eye. The colorful and elaborate garment creates a sense of wealth as well, as it would be expensive to create such detail. She has a hair pick in her hand, and a book in her lap. The viewer catches her in the middle of preparing for a performance, as she is combing her hair and studying. There is also a side table nearby, with the rest of the painting being negative space, aside from inscriptions across the top of the work. The use of negative space emphasizes again that she, and her garment are the focus of the work.

Closer look at the colorful garments of the geisha.

The patterns of the geisha’s clothing create the narrative of being beautiful, and an entertainer. The role of the geisha is to entertain, and her colorful clothing helps to convey that idea to society. This is a very different message than the one being conveyed in The Hell Courtesan, demonstrating the ability of clothing to further ideas or opinions. This artwork is just another example of a woman’s ability to convey a message of herself to society through the clothing she decides to appear in.

Geisha reading, holding a hair pick in her hand can be viewed at the Trout Gallery on the campus of Dickinson College upon request. Below are some pictures taken of the actual artwork.

Picture taken of Geisha reading, holding a hair pick in her hand.

Picture taken of Geisha reading, holding a hair pick in her hand.

[1] Reynolds, Wayne; Gallagher, John. 2003. Geisha: A Unique World of Tradition, Elegance and Art.

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