Kitagawa Utamaro / A Flirt, from the series Ten Studies in Female Physiognomy (Fujin sogaku juttai) / Edo period, 1791-1792Kitagawa Utamaro
A Flirt, from the series Ten Studies in Female Physiognomy (Fujin sogaku juttai)
Edo period, 1791-1792

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Creator Name: Kitagawa, Utamaro
Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Japanese
Creator Dates/Places: 1753-1806
Creator Name-CRT: Kitagawa Utamaro
Title: A Flirt, from the series Ten Studies in Female Physiognomy (Fujin sogaku juttai)
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1791
Creation End Date: 1792
Creation Date: Edo period, 1791-1792
Creation Place: Japan
Object Type: Paintings
Materials and Techniques: Ink, color, and mica on paper
Parts and Pieces: woodblock print
Dimensions: 14 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. (37.8 x 25.1 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.219
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Context: The technique of printing with blocks of wood has a long history in Japan. From the 8th through 16th centuries, it was primarily used for the mass production of Buddhist texts and icons. By the mid-17th century, books and single-sheet prints, often featuring scenes of city life based on contemporary literature, were produced to satisfy the demand of a growing and wealthy urban class for arts that reflected their interests and activities. Teahouses, brothels, and puppet and Kabuki theaters--clustered together on the outskirts of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka--constituted their primary amusements, and these townsmen celebrated a life style free from the constraints of daily life as well as those inherent in the rigid government-dictated social structure of the times. These establishments and the actors, courtesans, and writers who inhabited them set the trends for metropolitan fashions in literature, art, and clothing. The entertainment districts, their art and their fashions, constituted the ukiyo or "floating world," and thus woodblock prints (and paintings) depicting the localities, activities, and denizens of this world are known as ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the floating world."

Innovative compositions, an interest in psychological states, anda fascinating interplay of social commentary, satire, and caricature are characteristic features of these images, evident in the large number of prints produced in the "big head picture" or okubi-e format during this period. Concentrating on the faces and upper bodies of their subjects, "big head" prints present well-known actors and courtesans (as well as anonymous subjects) in an arresting and intimate fashion. A series of prints designed by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) in the early 1790s, entitled Ten Studies in Female Physiognomy (Fujin sogaku juttai), exemplifies Utamaro's interest in probing beneath the surface of a subject and his use of subtle clues to create a personality for an imaginary woman who embodies a "type." For example, in this print from the series, entitled A Flirt, the alert, somewhat searching expression on the young woman's face and her apparent disregard for the state of her clothing help to define her as a fickle woman, one who is easily dissatisfied and constantly looking for new men in her life. The use of mica in the background further focuses attention on her personality and appearance.

The small seal on this print reads kiwame, "inspection concluded." It was the first censor's seal to be used on Japanese woodblock prints. The imposition of official censorship and the insistence that the design of every print be government-approved was one of the many ways in which the Tokugawa regime sought to control the life styles and the increasing economic and political clout of the urban class.

Utamaro is one of the most renowned Japanese print artists, and he is particularly revered for his skillful and probing depictions of women. He was born in Musashi and studied painting in a Kano-school atelier. He also studied with the artist Toriyama Sekien (1714-1788), who was noted for his illustrated books of humorous verse. Much of Utamaro's early work features the Kabuki theater. Around 1779, he began to illustrate various types of popular literature and in 1788 began to concentrate on beautiful women, at which time he also first used the signature Utamaro.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 99.
Related Document Description: Sutton, Denys. 'Search for Perfection.' Apollo (November 1983), p. 362.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Hong Kong and Singapore: Hong Kong Museum of Art and National Museum Singapore, 1993, pp. 162, 163.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Tokyo: Idemitsu Museum of Arts, 1992, pp. 113, 144.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.219
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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