Utamaro Kitagawa

Young woman applying make up, woodblock print. c.1795 (Source: wikipaintings.org)

Beauty in Front of Mirror Beauty in Front of Mirror

Another artist of the Japanese ukiyo-e genre whom I considered for my project is Utamaro Kitagawa (1750?-1806).

Utamaro was considered one of the great printmakers of the genre. Like many other printmakers, he experimented in subjects like landscapes to animals to kabuki actors, but it was his focus of women that made him well-known and solidified his reputation.

His representations of beautiful women (bijin-ga) showed his respect and his admiration towards them. His models ranged from the lowest class of prostitutes to high-class courtesans such as geishas. His prints focused on their everyday life, how they prepared themselves before a day’s work to their interactions with their peers. Even though his women were idealized in their features such as elongated torsos, large heads, and slim bodies, he undoubtedly found an interesting subject to concentrate his entire career on.

“Lovers in an upstairs room” from series, “Poem of the Pillow”, woodblock print, 1788 (Source: British Museum)

As with Kuniyoshi and other printmakers, Utamaro’s work also dealt in erotica, or shun-ga. His best known series of shun-ga is “Poem of the Pillow”. The image above is one of my favourites. The picture is very sensual. What is striking is that the woman’s leg is raised, open for the invitation. We don’t see the lovers’ faces, only that they are focused on themselves. It’s a private moment that is loving and tender. The British Museum has a great description of this piece, along with the poem that accompanies it. I would love to own a reproduction of this print one day.

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