The geisha Kamakitchi by Utamaro

This woodblock print of a geisha in Edo Japan is one of many done of the same subject by Kitagawa Utamaro.

His work, dating from the end of the 18th century, highly influenced European artists at the end of the 19th century, when Japan opened its borders to the West after several centuries of closure.

Utamaro documented the geisha culture as part of the ukiyo-e, his woodcuts of “the floating world,” which included teahouses, kabuki, the streets and life of urban Tokyo. His work was considered low-class during his lifetime, but he was incredibly popular, not only for his portraits of geisha but his erotic woodcuts.

His work reminds me very much of that of Degas or Lautrec, done a century later, capturing “public” women (geisha, dancers, cabaret performers, prostitutes) in private moments of weariness, self-reflection, preparation, and camraderie.

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