Kitagawa Utamaro Applying Make-up

Kitagawa Utamaro, 1753-1806

Seven Women Applying Make-up Before a Full-length Mirror
(Sugatami shichinin kesho)

pink ground with silver mica on the mirror, signed Utamaro ga with censor's seal kiwame (approved) publisher's mark of Tsutaya Juzaburo (Koshodo), sealed Wakai Hayashi, and oval WS (Schindler) collector’s seal on verso, ca. 1792-93

oban tate-e 14 1/4 by 9 1/2 in., 36.1 by 24.1 cm

Utamaro, along with the ukiyo-e artist Choki (fl. ca. 1780-1809), studied with the Kano school painter Toriyama Sekien (1712-1788). He signed his earliest known work with the go (art name) Sekiyo in 1770, and beginning in 1775 he designed a few actor prints using the go Kitagawa Toyoaki. In 1781 he began using the name Utamaro, making it official when he declared the name change at a banquet in 1782. In 1783 Utamaro moved in with the great publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo (1750-1797), where the artists Choki and Kitao Masanobu (also known by his pen name, Santo Kyoden, 1761-1816) both lived for a time as well. Tsutaya became Utamaro's principal collaborator until the publisher's death in 1797. Initially Utamaro designed actor prints in a style similar to the Katsukawa school, but during the 1780s he turned his attention to images of beautiful women showing influence from Masanobu and Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815). Utamaro's style continued to evolve and by the 1790s he had become the leading artist of beautiful women and the floating world.

Based on the Utamaro ga signature, Asano dates this composition to circa 1792-93, at the beginning of a productive period that saw the development of ambitious half-length and bust portrait images of beauties primarily in collaboration with the publisher Tsutaya. The title in the bookmark-shaped (shiori-gata) cartouche indicates this print is one from an intended series of seven, although only this one design is recorded. While the term 'sugatami' in the title refers to a full-length mirror, the composition is that of a reflection of a bust portrait of a beauty as seen from over her shoulder. The effect is to both share her gaze into the mirror, while simultaneously appreciating her coiffure from behind as well as a titillating view of her erikubi (the nape of her neck). Her facial features and the crest on her kimono suggest that this is a portrait of one of Utamaro's favorite subjects, the waitress Naniwa Okita. Tsutaya spared no expense with this production, generously embellishing the print with mica on the mirror. He released a yellow ground variant that compares so closely with the pink versions it is difficult to say which came first. There is also a yellow background impression in the collection of the British Museum with an alternate title: Beauty Applying Make-up (Bijin kesho no zu), a simplification suggesting that additional designs in the series were no longer forthcoming.

The oval seal to the left of the signature is often read: Wakai Oyaji (Wakai, young middle aged man), however, it can also be read Wakai-hayaji or Hayashi, which would accurately reflect the partnership between the dealer and curator, Wakai Kenzaburo (1834-1908) and Hayashi Tadamasa (1853-1906), the well-known Paris-based dealer who was a major champion and conduit for ukiyo-e in the West. This impression was illustrated in Dr. Julius Kurth's 1907 monograph on Utamaro (the first in a European language) which was lavishly published by F.A. Brockhaus with a gilt-stamped decorative binding and tipped-in woodblock printed facsimile of Utamaro's famous full-length ryomen-zuri (double-sided) hosoban portrait of Ohisa of the Teahouse Takashima (Takashima Ohisa) holding a fan. The photo credits the Rex Collection (Sammlung Rex), which must be Rex & Co., a firm founded in 1854 and an early importer of Asian art to Europe. At the time of Kurth's publication, it appears that management of the firm had passed from the Rex family to Max Vorwald who had lived in Yokohama, Japan from 1882 to 1889.

Wakai Kenzaburo, Tokyo (1834-1908)
Hayashi Tadamasa, Paris & Tokyo (1853-1906)
Rex & Co, Berlin
Werner Schindler, Bienne (1905-1986)

Julius Kurth, Utamaro, 1907, p.152, table 17, no. 339 (Rex & Co.)
Kondo, Masterpieces of Ukiyo-e Prints from the Schindler Collection, 1985, p. 56, no. 54 and cover illustration

Vignier & Inada, Estampes Japonaises: Utamaro, 1912, no. 44, pl. XIX (M. Mutiaux)
Ukiyo-e Taikei, vol. 5, 1975, no. 30 (Sakai Collection)
Shibui, Ukiyo-e Zuten: Utamaro, vol. 13, 1964, p. 46
Berès, Utamaro, 1977, no. 17
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 3, 1978, listed p. 253, no. 20.1-1
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 10, 1979, p. 15, no. 4 (Honolulu Academy of Arts)
Asano and Clark, The Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro, 1995, p. 48, no. 65 (New York Public Library)
Tadashi Kobayashi, Edo Beauties in Ukiyo-e: The James A. Michener Collection, 1994, p. 81, no. 59; and p. 82, no. 60 (ryomen-zuri print)
Fumi Ikeda, Tsutaya Juzaburo - Publisher who Discovered Utamaro and Sharaku, 2010, p. 169, no. 188 (Tokyo National Museum)

British Museum, ex R. N. Shaw Collection, accession no. 1927,0613,0.7 (yellow ground, alternate title)
Honolulu Academy of Arts, ex James A. Michener Collection, accession no. 15.490 (yellow ground)
Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto, Sakai Collection, nos. 2011 & 2012 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, accession no. JP3018 (pink ground)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ex William S. and John T. Spaulding Collection, accession no. 216398 (pink ground)
New York Public Library, ex Frank Brinkley Collection, accession no. 113361 (pink ground)
Tokyo National Museum, accession no. A-10569-1847 (yellow ground)


Kitagawa Utamaro

highlighting mica

WS seal



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