Suzuki Harunobu
Autumn Evening
c. 1767/68

Signed: Harunobu ga; chūban, 28.7 x 21.5 cm; nishiki-e with kimekomi

From an untitled series illustrating classical poems Harunobu created many works based on classical poems. The old woman represents ageing in reference to Hyakunin jorō shinasadame (1723), a book by Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671–1751), to which Harunobu establishes a unique relationship in the context of this image. Above the clouds, he includes the name of the poet Taira no Kanemori (10th c.) and his waka poem: “When the autumn grows dark, / the souvenir / of frost on my headband / was deposited.”

Provenance: Dona Tamara de Espinosa (Sotheby’s, London, March 1971)
Riese Collection #25

The right figure of the old woman kneeling by a wooden box from which she is drawing lengths of thread is taken directly from a book by Nishikawa Sukenobu, on the occupations of women, entitled Hyakunin Jorō Shinasadame. Harunobu’s use of the figure is this tranquil and poetic scene is a fine example of the sense of transformation that lies at the heart of ukiyo-e and so much other Japanese art.

That these intense colours were intended by Harunobu and were typical of the late 1760s is shown by the fact that a second state of the print, with the poem removed, and the old woman’s face reengraved is known, printed with colour typical of the early 1770s, notably the orange which is so prominent in the work of Koryūsai. An impression of this late state is in the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire in Brussels.
The poem reads:

Kurete yuku
aki no katami ni
oku mono wa
waga motoyui no
himo ni zo arikeru.

Autumn departs
and leaves behind
its frost
upon my hair.

Reproduced in Riese, Asiatische Studien, 1972, p. 85, no. 11.