became famous for the images
Immoral Art: How Kitagawa Utamaro became famous for depicting geishas and offended the Japanese government in one engraving
Kitagawa Utamaro is an iconic Japanese artist whose engravings are world famous. He devoted his life to portraying the inhabitants of the “merry quarters” – geishas and the maids of tea houses, and he worked, despite the prohibitions. His name meant “the river of abundant happiness,” but the artist’s life was not happy.
During the Edo period, during the reign of the Tokugawa clan – around the 17th century – an art movement appeared that became the hallmark of Japanese art in the eyes of the entire Western world.
The term itself originally meant “mortal world” or “vale of sorrow”, but the engravings of ukiyo-e are not at all sad. At that time, life in Tokyo was in full swing: those city blocks were rebuilt where the Kabuki theater flourished and the houses of geishas and courtesans were located. The first ukiyo-e artists portrayed the diverse inhabitants of these “fun neighborhoods” – beautiful geisha, stern sumo wrestlers, Kabuki theater actors with their masks and costumes, and therefore the word itself changed its meaning and began to mean “a world full of love.” Continue reading