Hokuba was considered one of the best ukiyo-e painters of the nineteenth-century, this painting is from the last phase of his career, at the peak of both his creative process and technical skill. The ancient “festival of pulling the young pines” (komatsu-hiki) is displayed here in a modern work from the Edo Period (1615-1868), and demonstrates both an expertise in painting and a transition within the ukiyo-e genre. Ukiyo-e was traditionally woodblock prints and illustrations of beautiful women and actors. Thus, this piece is breaking free from both of these defining characteristics – it’s not of a single beautiful woman/actor or a woodblock print/ illustration; rather, it is a painting of a landscape filled with various women.
The single frame of this painting demonstrates both a unified composition and a catalog of Japanese female archetypes. The different colorful women are scattered amongst a monochromatic landscape, pulling up and gathering young pine trees — a symbol of hardiness and longevity — for the first day of the New Year. Here, the women represent the different classes of the period, all working together in a foreground that blends seamlessly with the background into a complete and balanced composition. The differences among the figures can be seen in their hairstyles and clothing. The large size, reputation of the artist, and expensive material of silk all suggest that this was a work commissioned by a wealthier patron.
Teisai Hokuba (Japanese, 1771–1844)
New Year’s Pine Tree Festival, 19th century
Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
Gift of Charles L. Freer, 1912.14