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Furyu shogei no nishiki (Elegant Brocade Fabrics for the Arts)

Elegant Brocade Fabrics for the Arts
Kitagawa Utamaro
(Japanese, 1753-1806)
Furyu shogei no nishiki
(Elegant Brocade Fabrics for the Arts)
Woodblock print
Gift of Alvin John Accola in memory of his wife Katharine Mize Accola

Kitagawa Utamaro is considered the dominating ukiyo-e artist of the late eighteenth century, but little is known of his life. His original name was Ichitaro Kitagawa, and he changed his name to Utamaro in 1782 after completing his studies with several printmakers.

Utamaro was known for his images of tragic lovers and portraits of beautiful women, particularly those from the “pleasure quarters”: geisha, waitresses, and entertainers. Although supposedly realistic, Utamaro’s women are rather uniformly idealized beauties with elongated features and bodies. Even so, his prints enjoyed great commercial success and were exported to Europe in the early nineteenth century.

The three women in this print are making music with two drums and a shamisen, a four-stringed instrument resembling a guitar. These are the principal instruments of traditional Japanese music and were used for entertaining in teahouses, as well as providing accompaniment for dances on the kabuki theater.

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