Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese c.1753 - 1806) Mother Suckling Her Baby Extremely Rare Woodcut in Colors - image 1 of 12

Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese c.1753 - 1806) Mother Suckling Her Baby Extremely Rare Woodcut in Colors.

We were only able to find two other known examples of this work, one in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the other sold by Christie's, New York, on 18 Mar 2014 (Japanese & Korean Art, Lot number 422) for $32,500, including buyer’s premium. We are offering this cut-down version at a fraction of the price of a complete sheet (see condition information below).

We note there are colour differences between Christie’s and the Museum of Fine Arts’ examples and ours. In theirs, the kimono is cream as opposed to grey in ours and the sash is grey in theirs and brown in ours.

MEASUREMENTS (Sight): 10.25 x 8.25ins (26cm x 21cm).

CONDITION: This sheet has been trimmed within the image at top and bottom and to the edges of the image at either side (see image out of frame). It is affixed with adhesive to the cardboard backing by a thin strip at the top. There is a darker strip at the bottom edge suggesting some degree of fading in the rest of the image (this is also apparent in the example sold by Christie’s). There are two black spots at upper right and left. These appear to be ink and can be seen at extreme close-up in our images. We believe them to be original to the print. There are a few small specks of foxing visible on the reverse of the sheet.
There are faint vertical lines, one inch apart, intrinsic to the weave of the paper (we couldn’t capture these in an image). The frame is very basic, glazed, with a lightly stained paper mount/mat.

ADVISORY: We are not specialists in this kind of item and so we have tried to provide as much detailed information as possible, including extreme close-up images. If further information or pictures are required please email us via the “Email Shop” link at the right of this page.

BIOGRAPHY: Kitagawa Utamaro (b. Circa 1753 - 1806) Japanese: Ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings; bijin ga, bjin okubi-e.

As there are no official records of his life in existence, there is little information that is certain about Utamaro’s ancestry, any family he may have had, or how he lived. It is thought he may have been born near or in Edo: we know he was there as a child. There, having once gone by the names Kitigawa Ichitarō (possibly his birth name) and Kitigawa Nebsuyoshi, he received tutelage under Toriyama Seiken, who wrote of knowing Utamaro as a child, and described him as ‘bright and devoted to art’. Utamaro grew to become one of the ukiyo-e movement’s greatest artists, renowned throughout Japan as a Master even in his own lifetime for his prints of birds, insects (the best-known being ‘Gahon chüsen’ [Insects, 1788]) and, most famously, his bijin ga. Here, during the Kansei Era (1789-1819) he developed his own style of bijin ga - his bijin okibi-e - painting lone women rather than the more traditional groups, and accentuating the size and length of heads and faces, the slenderness of neck and shoulders, the coiffured hair, small eyes, small mouths. Often, this physiognomy differed little other than in the mouth. Utamaro’s purpose was to portray the very essence of the beauty of women, and it was these portraits in which he was most prolific, for which he was the most celebrated of his time; and for which he remains remembered as the most acclaimed of the bijin ga painters today.

The women Utamro painted came from diverse backgrounds and varying social positions, suggesting he saw the essence of women’s beauty to be transcendent and universal. His ladies ranged from sensuous beauties playing musical instruments, to devoted mothers, through to his shunga depicting activities from Edo’s brothels.

In 1804, Kitigawa Utamaro was jailed and subsequently handcuffed for 50 days as punishment for painting, and signing, pictures mocking the military ruler Toyotimi Hideyoshi and his wife, depicting him in lustful poses and his wife as a courtesan, probably in protest of encroaching censorship of popular culture, including ukiyo-e. It is said this was an experience from which Utamaro did not recover, and he died just two years later, in 1806.

It has been suggested, despite there being no records as proof, that Utamaro may well have married and had a child, given the tenderness with which he portrayed the gentle devotion of the nursing mother: a woman’s beauty which is, indeed, a universal one.

Japanese Art
Asian Art
8.25" (21 cm)
Kitagawa Utamaro
10.25" (26 cm)
Japan • Japanese
18th Century


Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese c.1753 - 1806) Mother Suckling Her Baby Extremely Rare Woodcut in Colors

£4,250 GBP
~ $5,263

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