Women and East Asian Art

Woman Reading under a Mosquito Net

By Kyra Samony

Attributed to the little-known artist Fuhiken Tokikaze, Woman Reading under a Mosquito Net is another painting from the Japanese Edo period. The medium is ink on silk, displayed on a hanging scroll. This piece has much less negative space than other pieces, but the background helps provide clues for the viewer to piece together, and ultimately create a narrative. The woman’s attire is easily the most colorful part of this work, and aids in creating the story for the viewer.

The woman, most likely a courtesan or geisha, is wearing a robe with images of waves, bamboo grass, and flowers[1], which could all be considered either masculine or feminine forms of nature, as discussed in class.

Closer look at the nature-themed garment

Her clothing, along with her make-up, particularly her bold red lips, accentuates her beauty. The robe’s patterns provide a contrast to the plain block color scheme in the background and draws attention to the woman as the center of the piece. The courtesan is shown reading a letter underneath some type of netting. The letter could be from one of her admirers5, which could explain her amused facial expression. The top of the netting creates a sense of an enclosed space with the perpendicular lines used, and angle at which the geisha is presented to the viewer. The piece is arranged so that it feels like the viewer is witnessing a private moment, in which the courtesan is reading this letter.

Closer look at her intently reading the letter, and also demonstrating how the netting creates a sense of space.

The presentation of the courtesan’s actions and attire contribute in conveying her role in society. The reading of the letter perhaps from a customer, as well as her beautiful robe, emphasizes her position in society as a courtesan, which places importance on beauty and appearances. The visual nature aspects have masculine and feminine connotations, which could allude to the fact that courtesans had a place in both public and private life. The inclusion of these aspects in her clothing again emphasizes her position in society.

[1] The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2019. 蚊帳美人図 Woman Reading under a Mosquito Net. Accessed November 24, 2019.

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