Sato Torakiyo, Geishas in a Landscape, 1870-80, woodblock print, detail
Sato Torakiyo, Geishas in a Landscape, 1870-80, woodblock print, detail

Geishas in a landscape, published by Sato Torakiyo in the 1870s, and once owned by Vincent van Gogh, was stolen from the Courtauld Institute Gallery in 1981. This photograph is the only record we have of the missing print.

Van Gogh was an avid collector of Japanese woodblock prints, which were bought inexpensively from dealers such as Siegfried Bing in Paris. He covered the walls of his studio with prints, and began to incorporate Japanese motifs into his work from the late 1880s. Geishas in a landscape appears to have been a favourite example. The two cranes to the left of the crouching woman were used in Japonaiserie: Oiran (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam), painted in Paris in the summer of 1887. He returned to the print more than a year later whilst living in Arles, using the central motif of two women and Mount Fuji in the background of his painting, Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear. The holes in the corners of the print, were caused by the drawing-pins Van Gogh used to fix it to the wall.

It is thought that after Van Gogh’s death his brother Theo gave the print (together with Scene from a Genji Parody by Taiensai Yoshimaru, also in the Courtauld’s collection) to Dr Paul Gachet in recognition of the latter’s treatment of the artist at the end of his life. Gachet’s son Paul Jnr. inherited the prints and sold them to a Paris dealer where they were acquired by the art historian Douglas Cooper, who donated the two prints to the Courtauld in 1957.

The full-scale photograph of Geishas in a Landscape and the surviving print, Scene from a Genji Parody, was displayed beside Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear from February to April 2005 in the hope that the lost print may be rediscovered and returned.

Further information

Alexandra Gerstein