Kitagawa Utamaro, Woman at her morning toilette, a hanging scroll painting

Edo period, around AD 1800

Utamaro (died AD 1806) was a master at catching the moods of his female subjects, often in the more private moments of their lives. Here a married woman is engaged in her morning toilette. Her gaze is caught by the beauty of a potted morning glory: perhaps it has come into bloom overnight for the first time. Her straight back, placed almost in the centre of the horizontal space and topped by the rounded marumage hairdo, forms a strong triangular composition with the potted plant on the left, and the copper water bowl and porcelain dish with toothbrush and mouthwash to the right. Utamaro used a similar triangular composition in other paintings of the period.

Utamaro was particularly skilled at using the patterns of textiles to indicate the shapes of bodies beneath, and here the lines of the checked blue outer-kimono suggest convincingly the woman's bended knee. Even without much shading, the knee appears to project towards the viewer; folds of cloth bunched at the elbow create a similarly naturalistic effect.

The rougher blue and white checks of the under-kimono and towel give variety to the range of textures. The touches of red, especially around the naked knee, give a sensuality that is rarely missing from Utamaro's works.

The signature reads 'Utamaro hitsu' ('the brush of Utamaro'). The seal reads 'Utamaro'.

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More information


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

T. Clark, Ukiyo-e paintings in the Briti (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

M. Narasaki (ed.), Hizō Ukiyo-e taikan, vol. 1 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1987)

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


Height: 394.000 mm
Width: 549.000 mm

Museum number

Asia JA JP ADD380 (1965.7-24.04)


Bequeathed by C. Maresco Pearce


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