Three Beauties by the "Artist of Women"

Although the Japanese ukiyo-e master Kitagawa Utamaro (1754-1806) designed gorgeous prints of subjects other than women, he was decidedly fascinated with feminine beauty. A genre that flourished during the Tokugawa Shogunate (1615-1868), ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the floating world," is the term used for prints and paintings that portray everyday domestic life as well as the exotic world of the professional courtesan. With fresh and brilliant colors and rich detail, Utamaro depicted hundreds of women of all social classes, from high-class courtesans at the pinnacle of their careers to such lowly laborers as shellfish divers. The rich variety Utamaro achieved in pursuing one subject is remarkable, particularly considering that many of his finest works, like Three Beauties of the Present Day, exclude background settings, concentrating instead on the faces and upper bodies of his subjects. He has been called, justly, the "Artist of Women." The "pictures of the floating world" captured the transitory pleasures of life, and appealed to a rising urban middle class, including those from Edo (modern Tokyo), with money to spend on such refined luxuries as the eroticized and idealized portraits by Utamaro and other masters of the ukiyo-e style.

Kitagawa Utamaro. Three Beauties of the Present Day. Color woodcut with white mica ground, ca. 1793.
The New York Public Library, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Print Collection.

More Color Woodcuts by Utamaro

Collection Guide: The Floating World: Japanese Color Woodcuts by Kitagawa Utamaro

About the Print Collection