Kitagawa Utamaro
The Gods of Good Fortune Fukurokuju, Benten and Hotei Celebrating New Year
c. 1795

Signed: Utamaro hitsu; Publisher’s logo (Tsutaya Jūsaburō); ōban triptych, 38.0 x 76.5 cm; nishiki-e with karazuri, shōmenzuri and gomazuri

An exuberant party on the upper floor of a brothel: on the right a kamuro is attempting to remove a sake pot from the enormous skull of the God of Good Fortune, Fukurokuju. In the middle the Goddess of Good Fortune, Benten, is playing a lute(biwa) in Chinese dress; the guest seen from the back sitting next to her may be a self-portrait of Utamaro. On the left is Hotei with his fat stomach. He is playing with a little kamuro, who is trying to get hold of his sake bowl.

Hettie Rhoda Meade (Sotheby’s, London, March 1961)
Riese Collection #69

Utamaro paintings have survived with figures and landscapes drawn in the classical Kanō style which is used for the figures of the three Lucky Gods shown in this picture, and it seems likely that he intended this early triptych as a humorous contrast between the ungainly classical and elegant modern styles. Each panel is accompanied by a humorous kyōka poem, and the poet’s name is as conspicuous as the name of the god of each print. Although Kurth suggests that the man in the centre panel with his back to the viewer may be Utamaro himself, he is more likely to be Ichi no Nakazumi, the poet named on the print.

Center panel:

Shiroji tomo
Not innocent,

naran urami no
a blank letter coiled

kurigoto wa
upon his lap

hiza ni toguro o
filled with murmurs

makigamino fumi
of complaint.
(Ichi no Nakazumi)

Right panel:

Ake mutsu no
At break of day

kashira nobiyo to
lean out your head!

wakareji ni
at parting pledge

chikai o kakeshi
 to meet again!

toko no Fukuroku
felicity in bed!
(Senkyaku Banrai)

Left panel:

Itaike ni
Could they have come

Tsui no kamuro no
from Hotei’s tum?

The kamuro’s

Nita wa Hotei no
 cute pair

Hara kara ga tomo
of Chinese bangs?
(Tomaya Akekaze)

In the poem by Banrai, “Felicity” is also the word for Fukurokuju; “lean out also means “stretch”, and refers to the god’s long skull. In the poem by Ichizumi, Benten is holding her lute in her lap and the man kneeling before her is holding up a blank, uninscribed fan. Hotei is often accompanied by Chinese children and he often distributes presents from his huge sack.

Reproduced in: Ingelheim catalogue, no. 59.