A courtesan wearing an elaborate hairstyle holds a writing brush between her teeth, and in her hands holds a letter for a secret lover. This hairstyle is called yoko hyogo and has a shape like a butterfly with open wings. It is adorned with abundant tortoiseshell hair ornaments. Such hairstyles were expensive and took considerable time and skill to complete. As such they were worn by high-ranking courtesans – the cost out putting them of reach of ordinary women or even lower-ranking courtesans.
During his early 70s, Kunisada started work on several series that are understood to have been conceived with the intention of him leaving an enduring legacy as a major artist. Extra care and attention was given to the designs, as well as the materials, engraving and printing. ‘The Modern Thirty-two Types’ depicts portraits of various types of women from the districts of Edo and is one such series that employed the highest standards of production, including the use of imported and expensive dyes. This is especially apparent when viewing the first edition where thick, deluxe paper was also used.
See Sebastian Izzard, Kunisada’s World, (New York, 1993), p. 180-181.