Utamaro (1753 - 1806)

Yamauba and Kintaro

Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: c. 1795
Size (H x W): 15.13 x 9.5 (inches)
Publisher: Tsutaya Juzaburo
Seals: Kiwame
Signature: Utamaro hitsu
Condition: Very good color and impression, very light soiling, very small old repairs bottom edge



Utamaro’s depictions of motherhood are considered some of his most intimate portraits. His representation of the relationship between mother and child went on to inspire artists a century later, such as the American Impressionist Mary Cassatt. This print brings together both motherhood and one of Japan’s most popular folktales. Kintaro is a famous Japanese hero known for his bright red skin and feats of incredible strength. Yamauba, the Mountain Woman, raised the orphaned Kintaro after his father abandoned him in the Ashigara Mountains. Though many images of the young hero focus on his strength or his animal playmates, Utamaro focuses on the relationship between mother and child. As Yamauba pulls the string taught around the child’s hair, Kintaro makes a face at her in the hand mirror.

Other impressions of this print can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, and Tokyo National Museum.

About the artist

Best known for his slender and graceful bijin-ga, or "pictures of beautiful women," Utamaro is one of the masters of Japanese woodblock printing. He is renowned for his ability to subtly capture the personality and private lives of Edo's women, from courtesans to mothers. Utamaro’s enormous popularity was not limited to Japan. During the 19th century, Utamaro's ukiyo-e designs entranced Western artists and collectors. Mary Cassat was particularly taken by Utamaro’s Japanese woodblock prints, exclaiming, “you who want to make color prints, you couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful.”1

The scholar and artist Sekien served as Utamaro’s teacher until Seiken’s death in 1788. While the influence of Kiyonaga coursed through Utamaro's early woodblock prints, his unique style soon asserted itself. A prolific artist, he also produced illustrated books and paintings. Around 1791, he directed his focus to half portraits of women on their own, rather than the full-length, group designs that dominated the genre of bijin-ga. In 1804, he ran into legal trouble with the Tokugawa Shogunate for producing prints relating to a historical scene. The print depicted the 16th century ruler Hideyoshi with his wife and courtesans, entitled Hideyoshi and His Five Concubines. The work was deemed disrespectful and Utamaro was sentenced and imprisoned for a short time. Some believe that this broke his spirit, for he died in Edo two years later.


1. Mathews, Nancy Mowll. Mary Cassatt: A Life. New York: Villard, 1994. Print, 194.