- Museum number
Object: Uwaki no so 浮気之相 (Fancy-free Type)
Series: Fujin sogaku jittai 婦人相学十躰 (Ten Physiognomies of Women)
Colour woodblock print with powdered mica ground. Girl with head turned, breast showing, wiping hands on cloth. Inscribed, signed, sealed and marked.
- Production date
- 1792-1793 (c.)
Height: 35.50 centimetres (image)
Height: 55.90 centimetres (mount)
Width: 25.10 centimetres (image)
Width: 40.60 centimetres (mount)
- Curator's comments
Kitagawa Utamaro was known in his own time – as he is now – for his ‘pictures of beautiful women’ (bijinga). Utamaro’s career as a specialist in this genre was forged in collaboration with publisher Tsutaya Ju-zaburo- (1750–97), and these pictures were part of an ongoing social fascination for appraising, classifying and marketing ‘beauty’. In 1792–3 Tsutaya published this print by Utamaro, in a group intended to be a set of ten studies on female physiognomies. Subtitled ‘Uwaki no so-’, this picture describes the figure as, literally, the ‘light-hearted’, or ‘fancy-free’ type. Using the term ‘physiognomy’ referred to period practices of discerning personality and destiny through a close analysis of facial features, ‘reading’ them, according to period manuals for the pseudo-science. The text thus describes this image as a study of an individual classified by physiognomy as a ‘type’. Shown in mid-action, as though she is turning to speak to an associate, the woman seems to have been drawn as though she might have been seen by Utamaro himself. The mica-printed background enhances the contours of the figure while at the same time alluding to the idea of a mirror or a silver leafcovered standing screen. However, comparison with period literature demonstrates that Utamaro was not basing his design upon direct observation, but referring to another set of social and sexual classifications. The posture and gesture of the ‘fancy-free type’ matches the design of an unlicensed prostitute disguised as a dancer (odoriko) illustrated in a book by Santo- Kyo-den, published by Tsutaya in 1786. ‘Physiognomic’ study, too, alluded to an erotic book, Ehon hime hajime (Picture Book: First-Time Princesses) of 1790, by Utamaro and Katsukawa Shuncho - , in which facial types were ‘matched’ to physiological qualities of the sexual organs (see also Clark et al 2013, cat. 52). Discerning viewers of his time likely would have recognized these sources as the real ‘physiognomic’ meaning of the image. [JD]
The best-known of the incomplete set 'Ten Female Faces', and one of Utamaro's erotic masterpieces. Her kimono was probably originally a pale blue, the vegetable dye having changed colour through its own chemical action. The print is signed 'Painted by Utamaro'.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2019-2020 19 Nov-19 Jan, Edo-Tokyo Museum, Japan, Masters of Ukiyo-e: Five Favorite Artists of Edo Japan
2001 30 Jan-8 Apr, London, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Arts of Japan: Recently repaired paintings, Ukiyo-e IV'
2010 22 Sep-14 Nov, Birmingham, Ikon Gallery, 'Kitagawa Utamaro'
2011 14 Feb - 13 Jun, London, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from prehistory to the present'
2013 3 Oct - 2014 5 Jan, London, BM, Shunga: Sex and pleasure in Japanese art, 1600-1900
- Acquisition date
- Registration number