Kitagawa Utamaro (喜多川歌麿)

Utamaro KITAGAWA (喜多川 歌麿) (the date of birth unknown, 1753 - October 31, 1806) was an ukiyo-e artist in the Edo period. His family name was Kitagawa (written as 北川). His given name was Nobuyoshi. His first professional name was Toyoaki. His nom de plume in kyoka (comic tanka poetry) was Fude no ayamaru. He is an internationally renowned ukiyo-e artist alongside Hokusai KATSUSHIKA. His works are characterized by their delicate and graceful lines. Endeavouring to depict beautiful women of various postures and facial expressions, he was a master of bijin-ga (a genre of ukiyo-e specializing in the portrayal of beautiful women).

He came from the present Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture. He studied with Sekien TORIYAMA, creating the portraits of Kabuki-actors in hosoban (a narrow print size, about 33 cm by 15 cm) and picture books. Under the patronage of his publisher Juzaburo TSUTAYA, he developed his remarkable talents as an ukiyo-e artist. He achieved great popularity with his 'Bijin Okubi-e' (close-up portraits of beautiful women) which he began to compose around 1791.

Utamaro devised a new composition focusing on a woman's face while omitting her body which the traditional bijin-ga portrayed. This enabled him to minutely depict a belle's facial expressions and feelings. Utamaro portrayed only the common women like prostitutes, oiran (courtesans) and waitresses. However, Utamaro's ukiyo-e became a medium that spread the names of his models across Edo.

In response to it, the shogunate often gave him restrictions, but Utamaro continued to portray beautiful women in the form of hanji-e (picture puzzles). Enraged by Utamaro's portrayal of Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI viewing cherry blossoms at Daigo, the shogunate put him under house arrest, with his hands in chains. At that time 'Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI' was a forbidden subject. The portrayal of Hideyoshi who enjoys sake viewing cherry blossoms with his wives and concubines, including Kita no Mandokoro and Yodo-dono, is sometimes said to be a caricature of the then shogun, Ienari TOKUGAWA.

Famous Works
Fujin Sogaku Juttai (Ten Types in the Physiologic Study of Women)
Furyu Nana Komachi (Seven Komachi)
Ehon Mushi-erami (Picture Book: Selected Insects)
Toji Zensei Bijin-zoroi (A Set of the Great Beauties of the Present Day)
Utamakura (The Poem of the Pillow)
Harishigoto (Needlework)

[Original Japanese]