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Biography of Japanese Ukiyo-e Artist

Home > Artists Directory > Kitagawa Utamaro

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753? - 1806)

Ukiyo-e woodblock prints artist at the latter part of the Edo period.


Little is known of Utamaro's life.
He was born in 1753 (3rd year of the Horeki era) or a few years later.
His birthplace is undetermined. (Kawagoe in Musashi Province, Edo, Kyoto, Osaka ?)
His surname was Kitagawa and given name was Ichitaro.
He lived in Nezu of Edo and studied painting under Toriyama Sekien.
His first pseudonym was Toyoaki, then, he called himself "Utamaro" later.
At first, Utamaro depicted "Katsukawa Shunsho-like" Yakusha-e actor portraits, then, "Kitao Shigemasa-like" Bijin-ga beautiful ladies portraits or "Torii Kiyonaga-like" Bijin-ga portraits.
Though, from 1788, Utamaro started releasing art books whose motifs were plants, insects, birds and fishes, receiving cooperation with Tsutaya Juzaburo, head of an important publishing house (Hanmoto) in Edo.
The art books became big hits.
Since then, Utamaro released many Bijin-ga beautiful woman portraits in combination with Tsutaya.
Utamaro's painting style got free of Shigemasa's or Kiyonaga's ones, and he established an individual style.
That is to depict only upper bodies or only faces of ladies in contradiction to techniques of earlier times.
Utamaro tried to express and imply circumstances, regular lives, characters and others of motifs using his own style.
On the other hand, he also depicted many erotic and sensual pictures (Shun-ga).
Utamaro firmly established his place, however, the Tokugawa-Bakufu Shogunate sentenced him fo manacle for 50 days by reason of criticism of the government.
Utamaro deceased two years later since then (1806, 3rd year of the Bunka era).

Toji San-Bijin, Three Beauties in the Kansei era Edo no Hana - Musume Jyoruri, Girl playing Jyoruri Yamauba & Kintaro with Sakazuki Poppin o Fuku Onna, Young Lady blowing on a Poppin 1790 Awabi Tori, Collection of Abalones
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