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Kitagawa Utamaro • Print, 1785, 37.5×25 cm
About the artwork
Art form: Print
Subject and objects: Portrait
Technique: Engraving
Date of creation: 1785
Size: 37.5×25 cm
Artwork in selections: 28 selections

Description of the artwork «Comb»

The artist Kitagawa Utamaro started his career with work on the illustrations and prints depicting the Kabuki actors. But his main passion was writing Japanese beauties all classes. Most often he's visited for the search of nature in fun neighborhoods where he posed willingly inmate teahouses, courtesans and geishas.

In 1780 talent Utamaro noted the well-known publisher, Juzaburo Tsutaya, and since then, the depiction of Japanese girls and women becomes the main topic of woodblock masters. In the tradition of Ukiyo-e these prints, mainly portraits of beautiful Japanese women, attributed to the genre of bijin-GA ("pictures of beauties").

And if most other artists chose to portray her characters in full growth, Utamaro often taken for head-and-shoulders composition, okubi-e ("large head"). This gave the opportunity to focus on the filigree image of a face and hairstyle, and also focus on the inner world and emotions of models.

Due to this, the artist became the de facto Creator of the genre of the portrait in the tradition of Ukiyo-e prints. Despite the fact that the external signs of his heroines looked pretty generalized (high hairstyles with decorative hairpins, a long, graceful neck, delicate fingers), he managed to grasp the essence of their character or reflect the immediate emotion: sadness, playfulness, daydreaming, or fun.

Another innovation Utamaro was that he depicted the representatives of different social layers: nobility townspeople, saleswomen of small shops and girls from the famous shopping dynasties. But first engravings often play the role of a kind of "flyers" in which appeared the famous geisha and courtesans, popular.

But without the participation of the latter in the works of Kitagawa Utamaro, of course, has not done. For prints Ukiyo-e, devoted to the courtesans of the highest rank, even allocated a whole sub-genre – Tiu. Judging by the frivolous alongside the women at the top "Ridge" off the neck and chest, and the expensive silk Wallpaper in the background, in this case we are talking about just one of them.

The specifics of printing woodcuts from wooden blocks was such that the creation of such a work demanded the highest skill from the whole team: in addition to direct artist and publisher, was involved engraver and typographer. For each color or shade cut a single printed form, the number of which reached more than three dozen just for one engraving.

And such refinements as individual hairs in the hair or translucent tortoiseshell comb was a challenge both for the engraver and printer, which is painted on the finished shape and hand-made prints on wet paper. Without their work there would be dazzlingly beautiful paintings Utamaro.

But merit of the artist also cannot be overstated: it seems to be born in Japan and grow up in Edo overlooking mount Fuji to be able to see and portray the beautiful in such a small amount of funds. A few smooth lines, a dozen pure tones and the finished portrait can be viewed for hours, but still did not find the answer, what is hypnotism beauties Kitagawa Utamaro.

His signature style – delicate features, a small neat mouths, upturned eyebrows, thin neck and long fingers – will eventually become the national ideal of beauty. "The artist extracted from the core of light and colors wonderful form of the Japanese and gave it time, gave it to us, unknown and distant descendants, moved the same as he thirst eternally living, perfect"– so poetically spoke about the work of masters Utamaro orientalist Nikolai Fedorenko.

Author: Natalia Azarenka