Artist: Kitagawa Utamaro (喜多川歌麿)

Alternate names:
Entaisai (go - 燕岱斎)
Hōshō (pseudonym or nickname)
Issōshurichōsai (go - 一窓主裡町斎)
Mokuen (go - 木燕)
Murasakiya (studio name - 紫屋)
Sekiyō (go - 石要)
Shibarya (studio name - 柴屋)
Toriyama (original family name - 鳥山)
Toyoaki (pseudonym or nickname -豊章)
Yūki (nickname - 勇記)
Yūsuke (nickname - 勇助)
Shinobugaoka Utamaro

Lifetime: circa 1753 - 1806

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Laurence Binyon in his Japanese Colour Prints wrote on page 91: "Only one year younger than Kiyonaga, Utamaro was so gradual in developing his personal style that one is apt to conceive of him as belonging to the next generation."

Later, on the same page, Binyon wrote: "And yet Utamaro, with all this marvellous gift, was content to bide his time, and made no effort during Temmei to dispute the paramount place with Kiyonaga. He had not caught the public taste; and when Kiyonaga triumphed, Utamaro adopted something from his style."

"Just prior to Sekiyen's death (September 2nd, 1788), Utamaro established the Ki-ta-gawa sub-school, his first pupil being Yukimaeo, a book illustrator only whose first work (a kibyoshi suppressed by the authorities) was published during 1788. A second and a third pupil were Toyomaro and Kikumaro. The former designed a few prints signed "Utamaro's pupil Toyomaro about the first half of Kwansei. Kikumaro worked about 1795 to 1805 inclusive under that studio-name, and then under that of Tsukimaro. He gave up print-designing about 1820. His personal name was Rokusaburo. Dates of birth and death of these three and the following ten artists are unknown." (Ibid., p. 111)

Binyon could not have been more complimentary of Utamaro if he tried. Comparing him to Kiyonaga, Binyon wrote: "...where Kiyonaga's range was narrow, Utamaro was inexhaustible. His work is full of surprises, which are not only surprises but felicities. There is no end to his invention in the arrangement of figures. But "arrangement" suggests a cold deliberation, whereas Utamaro's ways of relating one figure to another have the quality of inspiration." (Ibid., pp. 113-114)

Binyon noted that with Utamaro "...there is very perceptible that genius for design, for relating figures and groups to one another with natural felicity and freshness, in which Utamaro was to excel all his compeers, his predecessors, and successors..." (Ibid., p. 116)

Utamaro once derided the work of lesser artists by using an inscription on one of his prints. Binyon reported that about one print where Utamaro had written a comment: "This one has an inscription pouring contempt on the artists who try to make up for want of brush-power by dressing up their models in gorgeous costumes with painted faces; whereas a mere ink-sketch, if power be in the brush, will create living beauty. "My fee," says Utamaro, "is as high as my nose. Publishers who buy cheap must take the consequences; their proud noses will be crushed." (Ibid., p. 131)


"By 1781 Utamaro’s status in knowledge, manners, habits and wit seemed fully established. His illustrations of that year to a kibyōshi by Shimizu Enjū were accompanied by the annotation ‘Shinobugaoka Suchō yūjin Utamaro jo’—‘written by Utamaro, the playboy of Shinobugaoka Suchō’..."

Quoted from: 'The Source and the Period Eye: New Perspectives on Japanese Visual Culture' by David Bell, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 10, 2 (December 2008): [135-] 136.