Christie’s has announced the rediscovery of an important Japanese hanging scroll-painting, Jigoku dayu (Hell Courtesan) by the eccentric yet brilliant artist Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-89) Known only from two black and white images taken in 1911 and 1942, this painting is estimated £300,000 – 500,000 ($482,000 – 804,000). Believed lost for over half a century and found in remarkable condition in a drawer, the unique painting is being offered from a private collection in the sale of Asobi: Ingenious Creativity & Ceramics from the Bernard Leach Collection at South Kensington on 15 October 2013, during Frieze week.
The painting shows a beautiful courtesan glances over her shoulder at a macabre scene of merrymaking skeletons. With her right hand, she pulls her ornate outer robe around her, and with the left she gestures toward the evocative moon and autumn grasses painted on a standing screen. Her silk robe is decorated with emblems of wealth and good fortune: Gods of Good Luck, lucky coral, jewels and long-life symbols. By contrast, there are a few Buddhist elements on her obi: a demonic guardian of hell stands behind Hotei, who is cast in the role of the bodhisattva Jizo, descending to hell as protector of children. She is the Hell Courtesan (Jigoku dayu), made famous in Edo-period legends associated with the monk Ikkyu. She was immortalized in numerous color woodcuts and ukiyo-e paintings in the nineteenth century and Kyosai himself did several of variations on this composition.