Category Archive 'Kitagawa Utamaro'

23 Aug 2008

A Rather Expensive Utamaro

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Kitagawa Utamaro (1753?-1806), Mono omou koi (Reflective Love),
from the series of five prints entitled Kasen koi no bu (Anthology of Poems: The Love Section), c. 1793-94

Estimated to sell for $1,000,000 – $1,500,000 at the Christie’s auction sale of Japanese & Korean art scheduled for September 18, 2008 at Rockefeller Center in New York.


Jeffrey Olson
‘s excellent description reads (in part):


Her underrobe lies loose about her neck, as in a casual moment at the end of a day, and her eyes are unusually compressed to give the sense of the heavy-lidded stare of the daydreamer. Features or dress that might define personality or status or period are absent. Utamaro is using “delicious approximations” to decant the sensation from the scene.2
The visual glory of Reflective Love begins with the contrasts between the planes of color. The violet inner robe and matching silk hair tie are breathtaking. Purple, one of the most fugitive hues, tends to fade to grayish brown. The muted colors of the Reflective Love in the Musée Guimet prompted Richard Lane to remark on Utamaro’s subdued palette.3 Its cool tone conveys a somber mood, a brooding over something lost or never to be. The impression here—the vermilion lips and cuff lining, the velvet swirl of hair—is stirring (fig. 1). The underrobe is in a traditional tie-dyed dappled pattern (kanoko shibori moyo) that appears often in Japanese prints, usually on undergarments. Utamaro uses it to stage intimate settings, as here. The middle robe has the trellis design of plain-weave robes from crossing warp and weft threads. The fabric of the outerrobe represents crepe treated with wax resist so that the clusters of plovers and dots, symbolizing clouds or waves, appear white against the dyed grey.
The pink mica ground is exceedingly rare. …

Shibui Kiyoshi (1899-1992), a collector and scholar of Japanese woodcuts, offered that the pink mica of Reflective Love represents the light of a lantern. Extending his implication that the background is not simply a costly gloss, but is intended to establish mood by suggesting the time of day, one might equally see the pink as crepuscular. To take another step, consider the poem by Fujiwara Teika (1162-1241) using the same pivot, “vacant reverie” (omoi), to which Emperor Komyo linked his poem in the sequence mentioned above:

kino kyo Yesterday, today–
kumo no hatate nino matter how I gaze in vacant reverie
nagamu tote toward the cloud tips
mi mo senu hito no tinted in the evening, how can I know
omoi ya wa shiru the feelings of one I cannot see?
(Fuga waka shu X: 954)

2:19 recording.


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