Utamaro Famous Beauties


Utamaro Famous Beauties
Print set

Kitagawa Utamaro
Mainichi Newspaper


Print is Public Domain; Photography is:   Creative Commons License


This set of prints was published by the Mainichi Newspaper organization in the 1980s, during what is generally referred to as the 'Bubble Economy' period of Japan's postwar growth. This was a time when property values and the stock market became vastly inflated, resulting in a great many people quickly becoming 'rich'. Money was everywhere, and one 'side effect' of this was that a great many projects that would have otherwise seemed uneconomical, suddenly became possible.

This set was one such production. Listing at the time for 480,000 yen, it seems to have sold well, being issued in a (nominal) Limited Edition of 250 sets.

It is a massive product, including a protective outer cardboard case, an inner deluxe fabric case, an expensive frame (with its own storage box), a comprehensive booklet describing the works, and of course, 24 beautifully crafted prints.

The major 'downside' to this sort of set is the difficulty of actually ... you know ... looking at the prints! It needs two people to get it off a shelf, and then extract the inner fabric case. Once that is opened, the large flaps take up the entire table space, and it is difficult to get to the next inner step, an envelope with each print storage folder. Extract that, and you are there, you can open it an look at the print. Then, carefully fold it ... try and get it back into its folder without damage ... extract another one ...

Over the years, we have seen and purchased many such print sets, and many of them show a similar characteristic: the top few prints have clearly been opened and inspected, but once you get further down into the stack, the folders are stiff ... they have clearly never even been opened.

But anyway, here they are, ready for everybody to enjoy!

To make up this set, the publisher selected works from a number of different Utamaro print series, so no single description will suit them all. Here are some points of interest about many of the prints included here:

- Many of the prints in this set are in the ōkubi-e (大首絵) format in which figures are depicted from the waist up. This was a format of portrait print that Utamaro himself created and which boosted, if not launched, his fame. Many prints in this particular set can be referred to as ōkubi-e bijin-ga (大首絵美人画), large-headed bust portraits of female beauties, Utamaro's "speciality".

- Kewari (毛割), a technique in which fine strands of hair are carefully drawn then carved one-by-one to create a realistic image, has been used in most if not all prints in this set.

- A technique called kirazuri (雲母摺) in which mica powder is used to create a luxurious sparkling effect can also be seen in many of the prints.

- Bokashi (ぼかし) gradation has been used in some of the prints to mimic the fading of pigments which can be seen in older ukiyo-e due to prolonged exposure to light.

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