Two Women

Kitagawa Utamaro Japanese

Not on view

Utamaro has set these two beauties one above the other in an unforgettable curved diagonal. The image is cropped at the right, while both look down toward the left corner. As in traditional ink painting, where negative and positive are played off against each other, here the artist has placed in opposition not only the forms themselves against the empty ground, but also the contourless, whitened faces and parted red lips against the vibrant fabric of robes and black hair.
The wearing of wide obi in the late Edo period changed the way kosode were decorated. When large-scale designs were used, they were now placed on hems and the ends of sleeves. Small invertible overall patterns also became popular, such as the stencilled design of water and bamboo in this print. White ikat patterns on a dark ground, as seen here, were also prevalent. A stylish "commoner's" design, it was adapted from a rustic pattern but often woven in luxury fabrics, such as the very fine ramie cloth that may be pictured here. Ramie is a plant that yields very lustrous white fibers, which, when split very finely and joined by hand, were used to produce a high-quality, labor-intensive textile termed jōfu.

Two Women, Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese, ca. 1754–1806), Woodblock print; ink and color on paper, Japan

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