Kitagawa Utamaro
Beauty with a Fan
c. 1798

Signed: Utamaro hitsu; Publisher’s logo (Tsuruya Ki’emon); hashira-e, ōban, 62.3 x 13.0 cm; nishiki-e with karazuri, musenzuri, white mica ground (shirokira) and metallic pigments

From “New Patterns of Brocade in Utamaro Style” This print is unusual because none of the contours are outlined. Utamaro’s text on the roll of brocade is also worth noting: “When painting beautiful women two things are important: the figure and the face. If one draws a smiling, friendly face, the viewer’s heart is touched. […] I hope that you will all reserve your criticism until after you have examined my elegant style and compared it with the distortions of others.”

Gilbert Fuller (Parke-Bernet, New York, November 1945); R. G. Sawers, London (December 1973)
Riese Collection #73

Like the untitled series of large heads for the Tama Rivers, Utamaro required that the outline of the woman’s face in this print be printed in a warm shade of brown. Unlike any other set, however, the three figures in this beautifully printed group are printed without outline, a radical departure from ordinary ukiyo-e design. The inscriptions on the partially unrolled bolt of brocade which serves as the title for the set are also remarkable as being Utamaro’s only statements of his intentions and aspirations as an artist. This one has been eloquently translated by Lawrence Binyon and Major O’Brien Sexton as follows:
“There are only two ways of drawing beautiful women: One is to delineate the features, the other to express the physiognomy. If, therefore, one draws a smiling face comprehensive of love, the person looking at the picture becomes excited, and if to this is added a delicate and graceful form, he becomes infatuated. I want all ladies and gentlemen to offer their criticism only after they have scrutinized my elegant style and compared it with the deformities of others.”
There are two states of this print which is often considered to be the most beautiful of the three designs. The first state has the cartouche, as here. In the second state this is removed. There is an impression of the first state in the British Museum, and another, considerably later than this in Chicago. An impression of the second state is in Brussels.