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Brushed with Passion

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Seeing a Performance

Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese, 1753?–1806)

Period:
Edo period (1615–1868)
Date:
1789
Culture:
Japan
Medium:
Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Dimensions:
H. 9 in. (22.9 cm); W. 14 5/8 in. (37.1 cm)
Classification:
Prints
Credit Line:
Gift of Estate of Samuel Isam, 1914
Accession Number:
JP962
  • Description

    A monkey performance is being held at the home of a samurai (seated at the lower left) to ensure good luck during the coming year. The artist's suspension of two figures in half-silhouette is a unique usage of the convention. These women behind a sudare byōbu (bamboo-slat screen) can view the festivities privately. To simulate the screen's diffusing quality, Utamaro softened the women's features in comparison to the other figures.

    Utamaro also dealt with the theme of voyeurism in this ehon (illustrated book) of kyōka (comic poetry), containing five double-page scenes of New Year's Day celebrations. The exquisite workmanship of this print is typical of ehon portfolios, which were commissioned by connoisseurs and consequently utilized only the finest ink, paper and bindings. A monkey performance is being held at the home of a samurai (seated at the lower left) to ensure good luck during the coming year. The artist's suspension of two figures in half-silhouette is a unique usage of the convention. These characters—the samurai's wife and her attendant—are seen behind a sudare byōbu (bamboo-slat screen), where they can view the festivities privately. To simulate the screen's diffusing quality, Utamaro softened the women's features in comparison to the other figures. Likewise, Utamaro isolates the pair through his monochrome treatment that is in somber contrast to otherwise rich color and sprinkled gold

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    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
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