Japanese woodcuts (woodblock prints) Ukiyo-e became known in the West after 1850, and were immediately appreciated by artists and collectors. They reflect life’s unstability as we can see it, its transient and fleeting nature. From monochrome at the beginning, before the improvement of the technique around 1760, they become colour prints. Primary themes: representations of urban life (pleasure-seeking, sumo wrestlers, renowned actors, street performances, the beautiful and stylish courtesans of the ”green houses”) and shunga – erotic scenes. The way in which woodcuts are made – a painter on one hand and the often anonymous, craftsman/printmaker on the other – as well the great interest of both Japanese and Westerners in Ukiyo-e, caused since the 19th century the ”authentic” reproduction of woodblock prints. The work is meticulously sketched again, the plates are cut a second time and printed in exactly the same colours.
Utamaro quickly took the technique to new heights. This triptych (oban tate shape) shows three women traveling with their assistants. They are getting ready for the night, under the mosquito net. Utamaro painted this instant of their private life such as tying the mosquito net, untying the obi, changing the kimono for the night, removing the last decorative hairpin.
Kitagawa Utamaro (ca 1753 – 1806), Anonymous
(18th – 19th century) printmaker,
Fujin tomari-kyaku no zu, sanmai-tsuzuki (Women overnight
guests) – colour woodblock print (mokuhanga)
1794-95 (Reproduction, date unknown,
without the seals of the publisher, censor and date)
Images of the triptych:
left: 26.8 cm x 17.7 cm
centre: 26.8 cm x 17 cm
right: 26.8 cm x 18 cm
Sheets: 27.5 cm x 18.4 cm
No 3702 – Acquisition 2016