Utamaro

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Kitagawa Utamaro (喜多川 歌麿?, ca. 1753 - October 31, 1806) was a Japanese printmaker and painter, who is considered one of the greatest artists of woodblock prints (ukiyo-e). His name was romanized archaically as Outamaro. He is known especially for his masterfully composed studies of women, known as bijinga. He also produced nature studies, particularly illustrated books of insects.

His work reached Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, where it was very popular, enjoying particular acclaim in France. He influenced the European Impressionists, particularly with his use of partial views and his emphasis on light and shade. The reference to the "Japanese influence" among these artists often refers to the work of Utamaro.

Contents

Biography

Kitagawa Ichitarō (later Utamaro) was born either in Edo (present-day Tokyo), Kyoto, or Osaka, or in a provincial town, in 1753. Another long-standing tradition asserts that he was born in Yoshiwara, the courtesan district of Edo, being the son of a tea-house owner, but there is no evidence of this. Following the Japanese custom of the time, he changed his name as he became mature, and also took the name, Ichitarō Yusuke, as he became older.

Apparently, Utamaro married, although little is known about his wife and there is no record of their having had children. There are, however, many prints of tender and intimate domestic scenes of the same woman and child over several years of the child's growth among his works.

Generally, it is agreed that while he was still a child, he became a pupil of the painter Toriyama Sekien. There are many authorities who believe that Utamaro was his son as well. He did live in Sekien's house while he was growing up and the relationship between the two artists continued until Sekien's death in 1788. Sekien originally was trained in the aristocratic Kanō School of painting, but in middle age he started to lean toward the popular Ukiyo-e, a genre of Japanese woodblock prints. Sekien is known to have had a number of other pupils, who failed to achieve distinction.

At the approximate age of twenty-two, his earliest known major professional artistic work was created, a cover for a Kabuki playbook in 1775 that was published under a pseudonym, the of Toyoaki. He then produced a number of actor and warrior prints, along with theatre programmes, and other such materials. From the spring of 1781, he switched his to Utamaro, and began painting and designing woodblock prints of women, but these early works are not considered of important value.

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