Hymn to beauty: the art of Utamaro

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753?–1806) revolutionised the way women were portrayed in Japanese visual arts, and his sensuous, insightful portraits of courtesans, housewives, mothers and lovers have enjoyed unabated popularity ever since. This exhibition of woodblock prints from the Asian Art Museum, National Museums in Berlin, is the first extensive survey of his work in Australia.

Art Exhibition previously on at Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney precinct, New South Wales, Australia.
From Saturday 13 February 2010 to Sunday 02 May 2010

Published by Art Gallery of New South Wales on Friday 18 December 2009.
Contact the publisher.

The ukiyo-e woodblock print is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable of Japan’s diverse art forms, and Kitagawa Utamaro (1753?-1806) is its quintessential exponent. Already celebrated as a master of the ukiyo-e print during his lifetime in late 18th-century Japan, he was introduced to the West at the turn of the 20th century as a painter of the Green Houses (Yoshiwara pleasure quarters).

Utamaro achieved his first breakthrough in the late 1780s as an illustrator of sumptuously printed poetry anthologies and erotica. With the introduction of bust or half-length formats to the popular genre of bijinga (pictures of beautiful women) in the early 1790s, he revolutionised the way women were portrayed in Japanese visual arts. His sensuous and insightful portraits of women from all walks of life – aloof courtesans, diligent housewives, affectionate mothers and passionate lovers – have enjoyed unabated popularity in Japan and worldwide.

Featuring around 80 prints from the renowned collection of the Asian Art Museum, National Museums in Berlin, this exhibition is the first extensive survey of Utamaro’s work in Australia and also includes work by his contemporaries and followers.

The exhibition’s title takes its inspiration from the poem of the same name by Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire’s adoration of beauty might well find resonance with viewers of Utamaro’s tantalising images of beautiful women.