Scholten Japanese Art

Kitagawa Utamaro: A Golden Age Ukiyo-e Master

Kitagawa Utamaro: A Golden Age Ukiyo-e Master

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806)

The term ukiyo (lit. 'floating world') alludes to an older Buddhist concept regarding impermanence, but during the prosperity of the Edo period (1615-1868) it began to be used to refer to everyday pleasures. The fleeting nature of life became a justification to embrace decadent escapism and brazenly indulge in earthly amusements. Ukiyo-e, or, images of that floating world, depict a variety of leisure activities such as the kabuki theater, sumo wrestling, music, party games, famous restaurants, teahouses and the pleasure quarters.

This exhibition features works by the ukiyo-e master, Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806.) Arguably the leading painting and print artist of his time, he dominated the market for images of beautiful women (bijin-ga) in the 1790s and early 1800s—a period generally considered to be the highpoint of the era known as the ‘Golden Age of Ukiyo-e.’ Utamaro played an important role in elevating woodblock print production to new heights exploring portraits of beautiful women from all walks and stages of life.

Image Credit:

Kitagawa Utamaro, Morning Parting at the Temporary Lodgings of the Pleasure Quarters, ca. 1800

Few prints, if any, are more lovely than the silver ground half-length figures of Utamaro’s prime and in all but his very latest work the sense of spacing and composition, the suavity of line, give evidence of perfect mastery.

Louis V. Ledoux, Japanese Prints, Buncho to Utamaro in the Collection of Louis V. Ledoux, 1948

Kitagawa Utamaro

Wakaume of the Tamaya in Edo-machi itchome, kamuro Mumeno and Iroka

ca. 1793-94

14 1/2 by 9 5/8 in., 36.8 by 24.6 cm

woodblock print
oban tate-e

P.O.R.

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Kitagawa Utamaro

Painting the Eyebrows

ca. 1795-96

15 by 9 7/8 in., 38 by 25.1 cm

woodblock print
oban tate-e

P.O.R

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Detail of Kitagawa Utamaro, Painting the Eyebrows, ca. 1795-96

Kitagawa Utamaro

Twelve Types of Womens Handicraft: Weaving

ca. 1798-1800

14 3/4 by 10 1/4 in., 37.4 by 26 cm

woodblock print
oban tate-e

P.O.R.

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Kitagawa Utamaro

True Feelings Compared: Hambei and Ochiyo

ca. 1798

15 3/8 by 10 3/8 in., 39.1 by 26.5 cm

woodblock print
oban tate-e

P.O.R.

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Scholten Japanese Art

Kitagawa Utamaro

Brine Carriers

ca. 1804

triptych 14 5/8 by 29 5/8 in., 37.3 by 75.5 cm

woodblock print
oban tate-e

$26,000

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Kitagawa Utamaro

Eight Pledges at Lovers' Meetings: Maternal Love Between Sankatsu and Hanshichi

ca. 1798-99

15 1/8 by 10 in., 38.3 by 25.5 cm

woodblock print
oban tate-e

$22,000

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Scholten Japanese Art

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Twelve Types of Womens Handicraft: Cloth-Stretcher

Kitagawa Utamaro

ca. 1798

15 1/8 by 9 3/4 in., 38.4 by 24.7 cm

woodblock print oban tate-e

$24,000

Kitagawa Utamaro

Children at Play as the Thirty-Six Immortal Poets, a Set of Thirty-Six: The Priest Hoshi

1806

15 3/8 by 10 3/8 in., 39 by 26.2 cm

woodblock print, oban tate-e

$3,500

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Kitagawa Utamaro

Treasury of Loyal Retainers: Act Six

ca. 1801-02

15 1/4 by 10 1/2 in., 38.8 by 26.7 cm

woodblock print, oban tate-e

$15,000

Kitagawa Utamaro

Ten Views of Famous Floral Places in Edo: Wisteria at Kameido

ca. 1805

15 by 10 3/8 in., 38.2 by 26.5 cm

woodblock print, oban tate-e

$22,000

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Utamaro began his career as a student of the traditional Kano school ink painter Toriyama Sekien (1712-1788). He signed his earliest known work with the go (art name) Sekiyo in 1770, and beginning in 1775, he designed a few actor prints using the go Kitagawa Toyoaki. In 1781 he began using the name Utamaro— making it official when he declared the name change at a banquet in 1782. Initially Utamaro designed actor prints in a style similar to the Katsukawa school, but during the 1780s he turned his attention to images of beautiful women showing influence from Kitao Masanobu (1761-1816) and Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815). In 1783 Utamaro moved in to live with the great publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo (1750-1797), who became Utamaro's principal collaborator until the publisher's death in 1797. Utamaro's style continued to evolve and by the 1790s he had become the leading artist of beautiful women and the floating world. In about 1792-1793, Tsutaya began publishing print series by Utamaro depicting half-length portraits of beauties with glittering full-mica backgrounds. These lavish images elevated print production to new heights, establishing Utamaro as the pre-eminent artist at the zenith of the golden age of ukiyo-e.

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