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Dutch Woman with a Parrot, a colour woodblock print

1725/1775

British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

A European woman holds a parrot on a perch and herein lies a pun: the bird is a kōmō-meichō, a red-feathered straggler (a bird that has strayed from its usual migratory path), and the woman is a kōmōjin, a 'red-haired person', that is, a foreigner, also turned up on Japan's shores.

During the Edo period (1600-1868) only the Dutch and Chinese were permitted to reside in Japan, and the former only on Deshima, a reclaimed island in Nagasaki harbour. Prints were produced that emphasized the exotic qualities of foreigners. Much care has been taken in this print to reproduce the appearance of the woman's costume - the gradated green of her dress is achieved by wiping the ink on the woodblocks, a process known as bokashi - and on the details of the perch (the food container and chain, for example). Another impression survives of this print, in the Kobe City Museum, but without the black lines on the veil and the frills of the dress.

If this picture portrays a particular person it may well be Mimi, wife of Carolus Hubert de Villeneuve, who arrived in Nagasaki as a 19-year-old newly-wed in 1829. The picture does not appear to be a portrait, however, and it may simply represent a variation on generic Japanese bijinga (pictures of beautiful women) but possibly based on imported copper-plate engravings.

The publisher's seal reads 'Yamato-ya'.

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  • Title: Dutch Woman with a Parrot, a colour woodblock print
  • Date Created: 1725/1775
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 41.60cm; Width: 15.90cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: woodblock
  • Subject: foreigner; dutch; bird
  • Registration number: 1951,0714,0.18
  • Production place: Made in Nagasaki
  • Period/culture: Edo Period
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Previous owner/ex-collection Pabst, J C. Purchased from Boxer, C R

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