This is a very well executed drawing on heavy paper of a court lady ,or bijen-ga, done in pencil. It was obviously framed at one point as the framer's marks on still on the piece and that part of the drawing that would have been exposed is lightly toned. The drawing is on paper that measured 11 ¾’ by 9 ¼” the lightly toned part of the drawing measures 9 ½” by 7 ¾”.
We believe there is a very high probability that this was a preliminary sketch by the noted British printmaker, Elizabeth Keith. It is pencil signed in with the initial EK that quite closely resemble her mark as found on some of her prints that both bear a signature and a mark. We can offer no provenance – but do think that there is better than a 50/ 50 possibility that it is , in fact, a very rare Keith drawing done as a preliminary sketch for a later print.
Elizabeth Keith, 1887-1956, is one of the very few foreigners successful in ukiyo-e printmaking. Elizabeth Keith was born in Scotland in 1887. She was a self-taught artist making watercolors and drawings. She came to Japan in 1915 for the first time. She made several trips throughout Asia and started a career as an artist in Japan. In 1920 she was discovered by the print publisher Watanabe. Under his guidance, she started making woodblock prints. Elizabeth Keith prints are both rare and usually very costly with prices start at around US$1,000. This was because the number of printed copies she made was small. Some of her prints were published in numbers of only 30 or 50 copies. She made than hundred woodblock prints and about a dozen color etchings. All of her prints are signed in pencil.