Art/ Collection/ Art Object

A Woman and a Cat

Artist:
Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese, 1753?–1806)
Period:
Edo period (1615–1868)
Date:
ca. 1793–94
Culture:
Japan
Medium:
One sheet of a triptych of polychrome woodblock prints; ink and color on paper
Dimensions:
H. 15 1/8 in. (38.4 cm); W. 10 3/16 in. (25.9 cm)
Classification:
Prints
Credit Line:
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929
Accession Number:
JP1672
Not on view
In this domestic scene, a young woman sits in front of a lacquered needlework box, folding a length of resist-dyed fabric. Several shades have been used to render the degrees of translucence of the gossamer silk. More substantial cloth is used as a foil—the woman's obi is of dense brocade and her light yellow robe has a simple lattice pattern. Colors swirl on the ground, accentuated by bold outlines.

In a common parody of a literary theme, the bobtailed cat playing with the cloth is an allusion to Nyosan no Miya, the "Third Princess" in The Tale of Genji. She was first seen and admired by Kashiwagi, one of the heroes of the Tale, when two cats chasing each other accidentally parted the curtain concealing her. In Utamaro's interpretation, there is no need to move the fabric aside. Utamaro has made sure that we see the charms of the seamstress through the sheer silk as he exploits one of his favorite techniques for showing off his printmaking skills.
Signature: Utamaro hitsu
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