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a bijin examining the kuchi-e (frontispiece illustration) of an edition of the Bungei Kurabumagazine; the pale blue background and green highlights on the cover of the magazine are sprinkled with mica, the collar of her inner kimono is embellished with kirigane (‘cut gold’) 24 carat gold squares, the edges of the pages of the magazine are printed in karazuri (‘blind-printing’), while the kuchi-e is palely printed using baren sujizuri to convey that we are seeing the reverse of the image; the series title Hyakunen no Hana and print title Senkyuhyaku-nen no Kuchi-e in karazuri on upper left margin, signed in kanji, Bin-ni at lower left followed by red artist’s seal Binnie, numbered and signed in pencil on the bottom margin, 31/100, Paul Binnie, 2012
dai oban tate-e 18 3/4 by 13 1/4 in., 47.6 by 33.5 cm
This print is the first image in a new Binnie bijin (beautiful women) series, Hyakunen no Hana (Flowers of a Hundred Years), which will highlight the changing roles, political issues, social situations and lifestyles of women in Japan in the 20th century, decade by decade.
By the first decade of the 20th century, as the social and cultural landscape of Japan had evolved dramatically with rapid modernization fostered by the Meiji government, so too had the role of women. Educational reforms promoting universal literacy helped create a new generation of women who had been taught to read and write and who could actively participate in literary pursuits. As a result, the female population, which had remained largely neglected during the previous Edo period, now had access to (and an appetite for) literature, creating a market supporting the specific genre of magazines aimed at women. By 1900 there were several magazines which serialized works of new and older fiction and might include poetry and criticism and usually opened with a kuchi-e (lit. ‘mouth picture’), the frontispiece illustration.
The print depicts a young, middle-class woman looking at the woodblock printed illustration in the front of a copy of Bungei Kurabu, a very popular literary magazine which was marketed to women. The model has a reformed hairstyle, looser than the traditional Shimada hairstyle and closer to the circa 1900 ‘Gibson Girl’ hairstyle of Western nations, which she has chosen to leave unadorned without combs or ornaments, even though she continues to wear kimono and not Western dress, symbolic of the types of stylistic mixes popular at the turn of the century. This new style of hair tended to be associated with educated, forward-thinking women in illustrations of the period, a stylish choice for a literate magazine subscriber.