Gakutei (Yashima) Harunobu
Surimono with Geisha and Cat
c. 1825

Signed: Gakutei; artist’s seal: Sadaoka; kakuban, 21,1 x 19,0 cm; nishiki-e with kinginzuri, tsuyazuri and karazuri

This is an exquisite private print, in multicoloured, metallic (perhaps even gold and silver powder), blind and lacquer printing. A geisha is tuning her shamisen near an open chest which holds various fabrics. A cat with a collar nervously observes his own image mirrored in the black lacquered side of the chest. On the upper left, two humorous kyōka poems have been included, which allude to the geisha’s lover, the beauty of her voice, and her cat.

Sotheby’s, London (June 1969); Kensaburō Wakai
Riese Collection #134

Both poems are about the spring. The cat willow is a particular type of willow which was often used in flower arrangement. The geisha is the singing maid in the second poem. The emblem on her shoulders and sleeves is a spindle, the symbol of the poetry circle which commissioned the print. Behind her is the lacquer case in which she stores her instrument, and open before her is another lacquer box which she seems to be using for storage (of ?). 
Gakutei designed another surimono of a cat scrowling at its reflection, this time in a lacquer make-up stand. (Vignier and Inada, Yeishi, Choki, Hokusai, no. 379, pl. CXV). The Vignier and Inada print, bears the seal of the Ōsaka engraver and printer Tani Seikō, and must have been designed after the Riese print, after Gakutei had left Edo around the late 1820s for Ōsaka.