Important Cultural Property
By Kitagawa Utamaro
Large Nishikie (wood engraving print)
Edo period/18th century
Tokyo National Museum
This piece depicts the upper half of the body of a woman in yukata with part of her chest bare on the white-kira undercoat. The three boxes in the top-left part contain, from the right, the main title of the series Fujin Sōgaku Juttai (Ten Types in the Physiognomic Study of Women), the title of this picture Uwaki no Sō (The Fancy-Free Type), and signature and seals ("imaged and painted by Utamaro," kiwame-in (censor's seal), and publisher's seal). The publisher's seal shows that this picture was published as part of the project by the celebrated producer Tsutaya Jūzaburō (1750 - 97), who made many works of Utamaro and of Sharaku famous. The idea of the project was apparently that Utamaro observed women's faces, and produced ten depictions as explanations of the different types.
A beautiful woman in yukata (summer kimono) just after a bath is turning her head and drying her hands with the towel hang on her shoulder. Her just-washed hair is tied around an ornate hairpin, the hair style called bai-mage (spiral-shell chignon). Uwaki is flirting with more than one member of the opposite sex. The unkempt hair of the nape and the movement of the hands one on the other are clear examples of Utamaro's mastery, who had an exceptionally observant eye for women. This piece is considered to be one of the earliest bijin-ōkubi-e (ōkubi-e of a beautiful woman, a portrait type of ukiyo-e) with the kira background.