Kitagawa Utamaro

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    Kitagawa Utamaro: A Japanese Artist


    Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) was a Japanese artist and one of the most respected designers of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings and is best known for his Bijinōkubie "Pictures of Beautiful Women with Big Heads" from the 1790s. He has also done nature studies, particularly picture books of insects. 


    A very little fact is known about Utamaro's life and living. In 1804, he was handcuffed for fifty days for making illegal prints related to the 16th-century military ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi and died two years later. 


    Utamaro's work reached Europe in the mid-19th century, where it became very popular and got special recognition in France. It influenced the European Impressionists mainly through partial views and the emphasis on light and shadow, which they mimicked. The "Japanese influence" among these artists is often mentioned in Utamaro's work. 


    One of the most prominent themes in male art has always been feminine beauty, but surprisingly, few artists identify with this theme primarily. But Kitagawa Utamaro a major exception, who dedicated his entire artistic life creating paintings on beauty, making him a legend of that time; specialized in posture, the character, the suppleness of the skin, and the grace of women and made full use of the characteristics of the wooden block to preserve the essence of feminine nature. 



    The List of famous artworks of Kitagawa Utamaro

    Mature woman in love (around 1793) 

     From Utamaro Kasen's five-part series: Ko No Bu (selected love poems), this Okubie design (bust portrait/chest portrait) is generally considered the best of this series. The title is the English translation of this print is "Love that cannot be erased in the head," depicting a mature woman resting her head on her hand, her eyebrows shaved, suggesting that she is married. His eyes are narrowed in a dreamy look into the distance. In this series, Utamaro focuses on the facial expressions of these women with fine lines and soft and delicate colors trying to reveal their inner feelings. 


     Applying lipstick (around 1794):  

     An ordinary woman, shown in a half-kneeling position, looks at herself in a mirror, holding lipstick in her hand. Red lipstick is applied to the mouth after the teeth are blackened. In this design, Utamaro proves his mastery in depicting women in everyday clothing in an ordinary setting. The subtle contrast between the red lipstick and the white of the skin is a beautiful detail. The black box in front of her contains tools for blackening teeth. 


    Yamamba and Kintaro (around 1801) 

    In this scene, the viewer feels Yamamba's true motherly love as she tries to soothe the little boy with chestnuts while he pats him while he holds her. The soft color combination contrasts nicely with the bold colors used for Kintaro and highlights its health and strength. 


    Physiognomic Studies (c.1791) 

    The following print is from Utamaro's famous series 'Ten Physiognomic Studies of Women' and is a study of a noble-looking middle-aged woman reading a letter and holding out her hands to unfold its simplicity and excellent composition. Some prints of this design have a pink background instead of silver. The pink was made after the silver. 



     Utamaro Kitagawa died on October 31, 1806, 2 years after his arrest; he was 53 years old; after his death, his student Koikawa Shuncho married his widow and took his name, and he went on to produce beautiful prints of women in the style of his master until 1820. Since he used the same signature as his master, it caused some confusion among today's art connoisseurs and collectors.


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