The Edo period (1615–1868) school of ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) focused on genre scenes and stylized portraits of the famous courtesans, samurai, and kabuki actors who inhabited the pleasure districts of the great urban centers of Edo (Tokyo), Kyoto, and Osaka. Single-figure studies became increasingly popular, the background and setting fading from the picture as attention was focused on pose and costume. In this painting, a stylish young man pauses under a blossoming plum tree as he surveys the scene around him. He wears an eye-catching striped kimono worn over a red undergarment and a brown sash. His accessories—a peaked straw hat, wooden clogs, flute in his sash, and kesa, or square apron that is part of a priest’s costume—indicate that he is affecting the look of a komuso, or mendicant flute player.
Miyagawa Choshun was one of the great ukiyo-e artists of the first half of the eighteenth century. Trained in the Tosa school of traditional Japanese painting, Choshun is one of the few ukiyo-e artists of his day who did not design the popular woodblock prints but painted exclusively on paper and silk. He was a painter of great delicacy and a skilled colorist, as is evident in this elegant painting of a fashionable youth.