Kitagawa Utamaro Courtesan Ariwara and Arishige

Kitagawa Utamaro, 1753-1806

Courtesan Ariwara and Arishige of Tsuruya
(Tsuruya Ariwara, Arishige)

signed Utamaro hitsu with publisher's seal Matayasu, ca. 1803

hashira-e 24 3/4 by 5 1/4 in., 63 by 13.3 cm

This hashira-e (pillar print) illustrates the courtesan Ariwara of the Tsuruya house with her younger attendant Arishige (or Oshige). Ariwara wears her hair in the distinctive hyogo-mage hairstyle favored by courtesans that splits the bun into two sections suggestive of butterfly wings. Arishige's hairstyle, with the pink bow at her hairline, likewise indicates her status as a junior attendant.

Hashira-e were designed in this narrow format for display on wood pillars typically found in a home. They were used and enjoyed, and unfortunately, eventually became faded, worn, and likely discarded. In comparison with other leading ukiyo-e artists, Utamaro did not design very many hashira-e (Pins records 41 by Utamaro, compared to approximately 125 by Torii Kiyonaga, 1752-1815; and nearly 250 by Isoda Koryusai, fl. ca. 1764-89). Although one of the reasons Utamaro is considered the preeminent bijin-ga artist of all times is his mastery of composition capturing the essence of these idealized women as seen with every sweep of the line, prints like this, with fresh pinks, purples, yellows and greens, remind us that he, his publishers, the carvers and the printers were all working together to achieve an ethereal and, originally, colorful beauty.

Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 3, 1978, listed p. 237, no. 684.1
Jacob Pins, The Japanese Pillar Print: Hashira-e, 1982, pp. 280-291, no. 785 (Scheiwe)
Andreas Marks, Publishers of Japanese Woodblock Prints: A Compendium, 2011, p. 78, seal no. 25-281, p. 413, publisher no. U220: Matsuyasu

British Museum, ex Samuel Tuke Collection, accession no. 1907,0531,0.474
Honolulu Academy of Arts, ex James A. Michener Collection, accession no. 20024
New York Public Library, ex Charles Stewart Smith Collection, accession no. 113627





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