Yoshitoyo I (一代目芳豊) was active c. 1854–58 in Osaka and is said to have died in either 1862 or 1866. His personal name was Hyôzô (兵三), his surname Utagawa (歌川), and his clan name Uehara (上原). Among his many gô (art names: 號) were variations on "Hokusui" (北粋, 北翠, 北醉, 北粹), as well as Hokusuitei (北粋亭) and Gansuitei (含粹亭). He seems to have been a student, at least for a brief time, of the Edo master Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川國芳 1798–1861).
Kita-Shinchi (北新地) was a pleasure quarter established in 1696 along the Shijimigawa (Shijimi River), a branch of the Dojimgawa (Dojima River). Originally called Sonezaki Shinchi, it featured brothels, teahouses, restaurants, bathhouses, and geisha residences. It was the location for some of Japan's great playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon's shinjû-mono (double-suicide plays: 心中物), notably Sonezaki shinjû (Love suicides at Sonezaki: 曾根崎心中). Destroyed by fire in 1909, Kita-Shinchi was rebuilt and eventually contained more than 160 geisha houses, but after World War II, the river was filled in and the area became a district of bars, cabarets, night clubs, and snack bars.
Bon odori (Bon dance: 盆踊 or 盆踊り) are dances performed during Bon matsuri (Bon Festival: 盆祭り), a ceremony for remembrance of the dead held for three days (13th–15th or 16th) in the seventh month on the lunar calendar (eighth month on the Western calendar). The Bon odori tradition began in the late Muromachi period as a public entertainment. Originally a Nenbutsu (prayer to the Buddha: 念佛) folk dance to welcome the spirits of the dead, it evolved so that the style of dance and celebration varies from region to region.
A hosoban by Yoshitoyo exists with 12 mameban-size images on the same sheet portraying various named geisha. Our deluxe chûban print by Yoshitoyo is one of a group of as many as 12 such designs. It is a charming example of bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women: 美人画), a genre that is rather scarce in kamigata-e, in stark contrast to the seemingly countless numbers of bijin-ga in Edo printmaking. Presumably, the geisha's primary sponsors funded their respective dance designs in the series.
In Yoshitoyo's deluxe print, the geisha Ryû (also read as Yanagi) dances while gesturing with an uchiwa (rigid fan: 團扇), a typical Bon odori performance prop (or for that matter, dance in general). Her robe is patterned with flowers and simulated gold (copper-rich brass) butterflies. Decidedy a lovely and charming work.
References: WKK, p. 242-243, nos. 247 and 250; KNU, no. 143 (right); SDK, p. 101, no. 206 (for two other designs from the set)