Kitagawa Utamaro
Okita of Naniwaya
c. 1790

Signed: Utamaro hitsu; Publisher’s logo (Tsutaya Jūsaburō); censor’s seal: kiwame; hanshin-e, ōban, 38.5 x 25.0 cm; nishiki-e with karazuri and white mica ground (shirokira)

From “Famous Beauties of Edo”. The beautiful Okita was, along with Takashima Ohisa (cat.123) and Tomimoto Toyohina (cat.132), one of the “Three Beauties of the Kansei Era” (1789–1801). She was not a geisha, but rather, like Osen in Harunobu’s time, a server in a mizuchaya (“water tea stand”). Such street restaurants were popular excursion destinations in Edo. Despite the somewhat formulaic, sparse lines, the face appears to be very animated. Over the cup is a tanzaku with a humorous poem (kyōka).

Kensaburō Wakai (collector’s seal: Wakai Oyaji); Merlin Dailey, Victor, N.Y.; R. E. Lewis, San Francisco (June 1970)
Riese Collection #67

This celebrated portrait of the beautiful tea server Okita is the second of three portraits with white mica ground of the celebrated beauties of Edo. Utamaro designed two ôban, one with a mica ground, showing all three of the women together, and two hosoban also showing them grouped together. The idea of comparing three beauties side by side probably came from prints of the 1720s by Masanobu and other wherein courtesans of the Three Cities: Edo, Kyōto and Ōsaka were shown together. Since Naniwaya means the Ōsaka House, perhaps the comparison with the earlier prints was intentional. Be that as it may, Utamaro’s choice of subject was extremely influential, and other artists, including Shunchō and Toyokuni also produced half-length portraits of the three beauties.
This is the first state of the print with the cartouche stamped over the mica ground. The cartouche has a spatter-printed design making it look like a poem slip and it contains a poem by Katsura no Mayuzumi, a kyōka poet, titled Naniwaya chō chaya ni yasuraite, “While idling at the teahouse known as Naniwaya”. It reads:

Waniwazu no
Wending their way

na ni ou kiri wa
among the reeds

yukikai ni on
of the misty bay

Naniwa ashi no komaranu
no one didn’t get lost

hito mo araji na
or failed to get short of cash

Katsura no Mayuzumi

The Bay of Naniwa is known in poetry for its reeds, but not for its mist. Kiri, the word for mist, however, also means paulownia, the emblem so conspicuously displayed on Naniwaya Okita’s blue dress.
Other impressions of the print have been frequently reproduced.

Reproduced in: Riese, Asiatische Studien, 1972, p. 96, no. 20.