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Kitagawa Utamaro, Lovers in an upstairs room, from Uta makura ('Poem of the Pillow'), a colour woodblock

 

Height: 255.000 mm
Length: 369.000 cm

Asia JA OA+133.06

    Kitagawa Utamaro, Lovers in an upstairs room, from Uta makura ('Poem of the Pillow'), a colour woodblock print

    Japan
    Edo period, AD 1788

    A masterpiece of erotic art

    The album 'Poem of the Pillow' is a masterpiece among the erotic works by Utamaro (died 1806), and indeed, among the entire erotica of the Ukiyo-e school.

    Utamaro has avoided the stereotypical scenes of love-making that were often produced at the time, and instead created an innovative and powerfully sensual design. He uses a very low viewpoint and places the unusually large figures so that they seem to expand beyond the frame of the picture. The eye is shocked by the white of the woman's skin against the bright scarlet under-kimono, and the transparency of the gauze fabric that covers the couple's entwined legs only heightens the sensuousness. Finally, however, the viewer focuses on the heads and shoulders. The details emphasise the emotion of the moment: the man's eye as he gazes intently at his lover, the tender touch of their delicate fingers and the exquisite nape of the woman's neck. Written on the fan is a suggestive verse by the comic poet Yadoya no Meshimori:

    Hamaguri ni
    Hashi o shikka to
    Hasamarete
    Shigi tachikanuru
    Aki no yūgure

    Its beak caught firmly
    In the clam shell,
    The snipe cannot
    Fly away
    Of an autumn evening

    The 'Poem of the Pillow' is the first of a series of de luxe printed books produced by Utamaro in partnership with the publisher Tsutaya Jūsaburō. The variety of themes - birds, shells, snow, moon and flowers - widened the range of subject-matter and styles in Ukiyo-e of the time.

    L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)

    J. Hillier, The art of the Japanese book, (London, Philip Wilson Publishers, 1987)

    S. Asano and T. Clark, The passionate art of Kitagawa (London, 1995)

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