Kitagawa Utamaro Waitress Orise

Kitagawa Utamaro, 1753-1806

The Chiyozuru Teahouse: Waitress Orise

signed Utamaro hitsu, with publisher's seal To (Yamaguchiya Chusuke), ca. 1794-95

oban tate-e 15 by 10 1/8 in., 38.2 by 25.6 cm

An interesting aspect of the floating world is that although it is closely associated with the ethereal world of the Yoshiwara courtesans (walled-off and beyond reach for many), ukiyo-e artists also devoted their attention to women from all walks of life. Real women such as teahouse waitresses were fair game, to a point. Utamaro (like many of his artistic brethren) had a particular fondness for the waitress Okita who worked at the Naniwaya Teahouse- producing over 30 prints featuring the legendary beauty (one wonders how she ever got any work done with all the fuss raised by Utamaro and the other artists who featured her likeness). In 1793, the authorities took exception to the flagrant elevation of commoners (such as waitresses) and forbade the naming of women other than courtesans in prints. This print, produced after the restriction, identifies the subject as the Chiyozuru tea house on the lantern at right, a clue for the savvy Edoite of the day who would have recognized the woman in question to be the beautiful waitress Orise. The design is one of a group of three related (but not connecting) compositions depicting teahouse waitresses in front of shoji panels through which we see silhouettes of figures apparently enjoying a party. In each, the waitresses seem to have wearied of the festivities; in this case the lovely Orise pulls her sake cup away from a proffered refill. For all the apparent activity in the background, Utamaro focuses our attention on Orise's elegant form, brought to life by the craftsman who deftly handled the printing in harmonious colors. Note how the sweeping marks of the baren (the woven pad the printer uses to work the pigment into the paper from verso) mimic the effect of thin fabric stretching across her skin to just barely show her arms and legs through her diaphanous summer kimono.

The three stand-alone prints were a source of inspiration for Utamaro's follower, Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867), who reprised the theme for his famous triptych, Three Fashionable Beauties Enjoying the Evenng Cool (Furyu yusuzumi san bijin) in circa. 1814-17.

Yoshida, Utamaro zenshu, 1941, no. 184
Shibui, Ukiyo-e Zuten: Utamaro, 1964, 194.1.2
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 3, 1978, listed p. 243, no. 402.2
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 7, 1979, p. 149, no. 134 (New York Public Library)
Asano & Clark, The Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro, 1995, text p. 157, illus. p. 109, no. 208 (Musees Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire)
Marks, Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publisher's and Masterworks 1680-1900, 2010, p. 76 (artist's biography), and pp. 299-301, no. 92 (Eizan triptych)

Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, ex Mary A. Ainsworth Collection, accession no. A.276, 50.417
Legion of Honor, San Francisco, accession no. 2010.11
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, ex Samuel Isham Collection, accession no. JP978
Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Bruxelles, accession no. 281
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ex William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.14249
New York Public Library, ex Charles Stewart Smith Collection



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