Lot 38 - Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese, ca. 1753 - 1806), The Courtesan Konosumi, from the series “Beauties of the Southern Quarter”

Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese, ca. 1753 - 1806), The Courtesan Konosumi, from the series “Beauties of the Southern Quarter”
reproduction Japanese woodblock print
8.5 x 6 inches.
Note: This print is a reproduction from Japanese woodblocks, so although it is not old, it is taken from the original work and has retained the clear and transparent colours of the original print.
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This beauty, a high-ranking courtesan must have been the dream ideal worshipped by many a romantic young man. The most splendid costumes were created during the late 18th century for these arbiters of fashion and style. Robes of silk crepe, velvet or satin were worn with broad sashes (obi) of gold and silk brocades. Her pyramidal coiffure, piled high on her head and embellished with elaborate hairpins is a dramatic change from the more casual styles of the early 18th century and required the care of a professional hairdresser.
Tokyo Bay in summer is pictured on her fan, with a poem by Magao, a contemporary writer. It was translated by Louis Ledoux as follows:
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Even as guests do,
So do the summer breezes
Ever returning,
Come to Sodegaura,
Place of heavenly coolness.
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Kitagawa Utamaro 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.

Kitagawa Ichitaro (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, Ichitaro 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 Kano 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 go 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 go to Utamaro, and began painting and designing woodblock prints of women, but these early works are not considered of important value.

At some point in the mid-1780s, probably 1783, he went to live with the young and rising publisher, Tsutaya Juzaburo. It is estimated that he lived there for approximately five years. He seems to have become a principal artist for the Tsutaya firm. Evidence of his prints for the next few years is sporadic, as he mostly produced illustrations for books of kyoka, literally 'crazy verse', a parody of the classical waka form. None of his work produced during the period 1790-1792 has survived.

In about 1791 Utamaro gave up designing prints for books and concentrated on making single portraits of women displayed in half-length, rather than the prints of women in groups favoured by other ukiyo-e artists. In 1793 he achieved recognition as an artist, and his semi-exclusive arrangement with the publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo was terminated. He then went on to produce several very famous series of works, all featuring women of the Yoshiwara district.

Over the years, he also occupied himself with a number of volumes of animal, insect, and nature studies and shunga, or erotica. Shunga prints were quite acceptable in Japanese culture, not associated with a negative concept of pornography as found in western cultures, but considered rather as a nature aspect of human behavior, and circulated among all levels of Japanese society.

In 1797, Tsutaya Juzaburo died and apparently, Utamaro was very upset by the loss of his long-time friend and supporter. Some commentators feel that after this event, his work never reached the heights it had previously. In 1804, at the height of his success, he ran into legal trouble by publishing prints related to a banned historical novel. The prints, entitled Hideyoshi and his Five Concubines, depicted the wife and concubines of the military ruler, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who lived from 1536 to 1598. Consequently, Utamaro was accused of insulting the real Hideyoshi's dignity. He was sentenced to be handcuffed for fifty days (some accounts say he briefly was imprisoned). According to some sources, the experience crushed him emotionally and ended his career as an artist.

He died two years later, on the twentieth day of the ninth month of 1806 (the lunar calendar date format for October 31), aged about fifty-three, in Edo.

https://www.1st-art-gallery.com/Kitagawa-Utamaro/Kitagawa-Utamaro-oil-paintings.html

Lot Name
Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese, ca. 1753 - 1806), The Courtesan Konosumi, from the series “Beauties of the Southern Quarter”
Media
Japanese woodblock print, reproduction woodblock print
Size
8.5 x 6 inches
Estimate
$150 - $175

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