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
dates may be sceptical, there is no denying his esteemed and
phenomenal talent as an artist.
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
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 Utamaro’s love affairs with these women are
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.
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
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 today’s 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
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