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Utamaro Kitagawa is known as the greatest ukiyo-e (printmaking) artist of the late 18th century.  Unfortunately, there is very little known of his life.  There are no records of his parents, his birthplace or the year he was born.  Through the records that have been recovered, historians believe that Utamaro was born sometime around the years of 1750-1754.  Although dates may be sceptical, there is no denying his esteemed and phenomenal talent as an artist. 

Utamaros original name was Ichitaro Kitagawa, and like most artists in Japan during this time, Utamaro began his career as an apprentice to the painter Toriyama Sekien.  His many early works consisted mainly of actor portraits that were incredibly famous at the time due to the popularity of the Kabuki theatres.  In around 1781-1782, was the time he changed his name to Kitagawa Utamaro.  He began a successful partnership with Tsutaya Juzburo who was a well-known publisher in 1783.  Forged as a team, they published many book illustrations together. 

From the time of 1791, Utamaro began to create his most famous pieces single portraits of women.  The models were taken from the streets and from the local Yoshiwara (the pleasure-district).  The stories of Utamaros love affairs with these women are plentiful.  By 1793, only two years later, Utamaro established a fame that was so great he was recognized in many places for his original series of women prints. 

Utamaros women prints were not fashioned to look like the Japanese women of the late 18th century.  The women in his prints clearly express certain aspects of sensitivity and are displayed in new tones of color for their flesh.  This gave the prints a softer and different manner that no other ukiyo-e artist had ever produced before him.  The women themselves were designed with an unnatural physiognomy.  They were idealized with heads that were far longer than they were broader; noses that were incredibly long, while the mouths and eyes were tiny slits; the shoulders small and the necks long; and their bodies were designed to be extremely tall and slender.  Interestingly to point out, the model of the women in his prints, very much represent the models seen in todays magazines. 

Utamaro continued to do well with his prints until 1804 when he got into serious trouble with the law and was even imprisoned for one of his prints.  This print illustrated the ruler Toyotaomi Hideyoshi with five concubines and also included his wife.  This was seen as an incredible offence against the rulers of the time the Tokugawa family.  Utamaro was reportedly so humiliated from this experience that he fell into a great depression from which he never recovered.  He continued to create prints until his death, but died two years later in 1806 in Edo at the age of 53.

More than a simple artist, Utamaro Kitagawa was a master of creation.  Through out his life, he created over 2000 prints, and numerous amounts of paintings, and illustrated books.  Today, most of his phenomenal works can be found in France.


 

Geishas Kabuki Theatre
Sumo Wrestling The Castles of Japan
 
The Great Wave by Hokusai
The Great Wave by Hokusai
Code:fw1002
Price:$27.95
Kabuki by Utagawa
Kabuki by Utagawa
Code:fw1121
Price:$27.95
3 Beauties by Utamaro
3 Beauties by Utamaro
Code:fw1118
Price:$27.95
General in Battle by Utagawa
General in Battle by Utagawa
Code:fw1120
Price:$27.95
Mt Fuji by Hiroshige
Mt Fuji by Hiroshige
Code:fw1010
Price:$27.95
 

 


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