Kitagawa Utamaro, 1753-1806
Wakaume of the Tamaya in Edo-machi itchome, kamuro Mumeno and Iroka
(Edo-machi itchome, Tamaya uchi Wakaume Mumeno Iroka)
with mica ground, signed Utamaro hitsu with censor's seal kiwame (approved), with a kyoka, and publisher's mark of Tsutaya Juzaburo, ca. 1793-94
oban tate-e 14 1/2 by 9 5/8 in., 36.8 by 24.6 cm
The courtesan is Wakaume of the zashiki-mochi ('having her own suite') rank of the Tamaya house owned by Tamaya Hayachi, which was located on the right side of Edocho 1 as you entered the street from the main Yoshiwara thoroughfare, Nakanocho. The so-called 'Hayachi Tamaya' was not to be confused with the nearby 'Kadoyamaya' (corner Tamaya), the more elite house of even higher-ranking courtesans. Her two kamuro (child attendants), Mumeno and Iroka are mentioned in the cartouche, and the poem by Hachi no Nanko plays on the literal meaning of her name, Wakaume, or White Plum.
Blossoming from out of
Her snow-white robe
Even her name is fragrant
The flower, Wakaume
In about 1792-1793, the publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo (1750-1797) began producing print series by Utamaro depicting half-length portraits of beauties with glittering full-mica backgrounds. These lavish images elevated print production to new heights, establishing both Utamaro and Tsutaya as pre-eminent ukiyo-e artist and publisher, respectively. This print is from a group of three which were likely intended as an informal triptych, each featuring a courtesan identified in the title cartouche with her house and naming her two kamuro with an accompanying kyoka poem. Of the three designs, this composition functions best at the central panel because the figure's body faces one way while she turns to look in the opposite direction, and one of her kamuro peeks out from behind in a rare instance of frontal portraiture.
Vignier & Inada, Estampes Japonaises: Utamaro, 1912, no. 65, pl. XXX (M. Bullier)
James A. Michener, Japanese Prints from the Early Masters to the Modern, 1959, p. 145, color plate 160
Shibui, Ukiyo-e Zuten: Utamaro, vol. 13, 1964, p. 50
Ukiyo-e Taikei, vol. 5, 1975, no. 29 (Sakai Collection)
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 3, 1978, listed p. 253, no. 27.2
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 3, 1978, p. 171, no. 121 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Tadashi Kobayashi, Edo Beauties in Ukiyo-e: The James A. Michener Collection, 1994, p. 65, no. 31
Asano and Clark, The Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro, 1995, text p. 70 with poem translation, illus. p. 70, no. 127 (Honolulu Academy of Arts)
Honolulu Academy of Arts, ex James A. Michener Collection, accession no. 20800
Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto, Sakai Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ex William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.14300; and ex William S. and John T. Spaulding from Vignier Collection, accession no. 21.6394
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