In Part 3 of my study into Japanese Wood blocks or Ukiyo-e prints I am going to consider in detail the life and work of Kitagawa Utamoro. Jonathan Hiller gives a good introduction to the work of Utamoro.
” Like most Ukiyo-e artists Utamoro began his career by providing illustrations for various kinds of cheap popular Literature”.
” Another beautiful print by Utamoro of this period is a triptych of a summer evening on the Sumida. into these prints Utamoro has brought that Plein air , atmosphere, the figures are bathed in the softly sun lit air of the Edo summer”. .
Hillier shows how Utamoro had established himself in the Ukiyo-e school, but he was still treated as no more than an ordinary craftsman or worker.
” Although Utamoro had evidently in 1785 arrived at a position of some consequence in the Ukiyo-e school of painters he was still little different from an artisan”. .
” A glance at the reproductions of Utamoro’s prints give us an impression of a land of colour , of grass and of pleasure-seeking of women attired in sumptuous garments”. .
Hillier shows in his description of Utamoro his great skill as a painter especially when depicting insects and birds.
” In the year 1788 appeared the first of Utamoro’s works the book of colour- prints (a picture book of selected insects)”. .
” Toriyama Seiken ( a famous artist and painter) had this to say about Utamoro ‘ Now he gad acquired his great skill in painting , he manages to make the lustre of the firefly shine out in a manner to stagger ancient painting”. .
Hillier continues to comment on Utamoro’s great skill.
” He thus seeks to penetrate the mystery of nature with the blind groping of the larva , lighting his way with the firefly”. .
Hiller shows that after 1788 Utamoro’s fame spread and his productivity increased.
” Certainly the period immediately following 1788 is one of increased productivity during which his exertions finally established him as the most potent force in the Ukiyo-e School”. .
” Not even Hiroshige whose snow scenes are among the finest works produced a more desolate wintry scene than the silver world of 1790″. .
Hillier shows that from 1800 Utamoro concentrated on the depiction of courtesans in the Pleasure quarters of Edo usually performing their very popular sexual proclivities which appealed to all classes of Edo Japan.
” Soon after 1791 Utamoro designed some series of half length portraits that in certain ways marked a greater departure from tradition than any of his works before or after”..
” In the following years Utamoro’s Art was devoted almost exclusively to the glorification of Women and an intense number of single prints and a series of prints form a gallery of beauties drawn mainly from the pleasure quarters”. .
Hillier invests Utamoro with an insight of seeing through the outward appearance and producing some very intimate pictures.
” But Utamoro has that power rare among Japanese artists of breaking through the abstraction of bringing us into intimacy with his sitters of giving the illusion of life as we know it”. .
” The Ukiyo-e artists went further and contrived to run their designs across 3 sheets”..
Hillier makes reference to the cavalier attitude or devil may care approach of Ujiyo-e artists.
” One of the features distinguishing the Ukiyo-e artists and no doubt partly responsible for their low esteem was the appropriation with a cavalier disregard for the sanctity of subjects hallowed from antiquity”. .
” Utamoro’s paintings partake of the character general to Ukiyo-e painting a greater realism , bright opaque colours and a delight in the detailed pattern of dresses -fine clear bounding lines and for subject, the Floating world and the Tea Horse”..
Hillier finally concludes by saying that it was Hokusai who would continue the great tradition of Ukiyo-e Print design by depicting landscapes. These prints would now be sold to the artisans and Peasantry who became interested in the vogue of the Travelogue pictures.
” To the end of his day Utamoro records the picnics and the pleasure outings that were a feature of Edo Life. He was the acknowledged leader of the Ukiyo-E School”. .
” It was left to Hokusai and later to Hiroshige to restore the school to something of its former glory and both these artists excelled in Landscape”. .
This concludes my 3rd part of my study of Ukiyo-E prints. In Part 4 I will consider the great contribution of Katsushika Hokusai whose influential Landscape drawings and prints would spellbound Edo japan and leave a lasting impression of a truly great artist.
- UTAMORO COLOUR PRINTS AND PAINTINGS. J HILLIER. PG. 14
- DITTO.PG.147 & 155