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The Courtesan illustrates Van Gogh’s interest in Japan and Japanese prints. He based his painting on a work by the Japanese artist Kesai Eisen, which had been used for the cover of a special number of the magazine Paris Illustré. He copied and enlarged the Japanese figure by tracing on a grid, giving her a colorful kimono and placing her against a bright yellow background.

The border around the figure is a unified whole. The watery landscape with bamboo canes, water lilies, frogs, cranes and, in the distance, a little boat – are all motifs Van Gogh borrowed from other Japanese prints. The choice of animals was certainly not accidental: in 19th century France, prostitutes were often referred to as grues (cranes) or grenouilles (frogs); they are a reference to the woman’s "profession".

The Courtesan is not the only painting based on Japanese prints. Two other examples are Flowering plum orchard: after Hiroshige and The Bridge in the Rain, both after woodcuts by Utagawa Hiroshige from Van Gogh’s own collection.

Details

  • Title: Courtesan: after Eisen
  • Creator: Vincent van Gogh
  • Date Created: October 1887 - November 1887
  • Location Created: Paris, France
  • Place Part Of: France
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
  • External Link: Courtesan (after Eisen)

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