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Kitagawa Utamaro, Lovers in an upstairs room, from Uta makura ('Poem of the Pillow'), a colour woodblock print

1788/1788

British Museum

British Museum

The album 'Poem of the Pillow' is a masterpiece among the erotic works by Utamaro (died 1806), and indeed, among the entire erotica of the Ukiyo-e school.

Utamaro has avoided the stereotypical scenes of love-making that were often produced at the time, and instead created an innovative and powerfully sensual design. He uses a very low viewpoint and places the unusually large figures so that they seem to expand beyond the frame of the picture. The eye is shocked by the white of the woman's skin against the bright scarlet under-kimono, and the transparency of the gauze fabric that covers the couple's entwined legs only heightens the sensuousness. Finally, however, the viewer focuses on the heads and shoulders. The details emphasise the emotion of the moment: the man's eye as he gazes intently at his lover, the tender touch of their delicate fingers and the exquisite nape of the woman's neck. Written on the fan is a suggestive verse by the comic poet Yadoya no Meshimori:

Hamaguri ni
Hashi o shikka to
Hasamarete
Shigi tachikanuru
Aki no yūgure

Its beak caught firmly
In the clam shell,
The snipe cannot
Fly away
Of an autumn evening

The 'Poem of the Pillow' is the first of a series of de luxe printed books produced by Utamaro in partnership with the publisher Tsutaya Jūsaburō. The variety of themes - birds, shells, snow, moon and flowers - widened the range of subject-matter and styles in Ukiyo-e of the time.

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Details

  • Title: Kitagawa Utamaro, Lovers in an upstairs room, from Uta makura ('Poem of the Pillow'), a colour woodblock print
  • Date Created: 1788/1788
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 254.00mm (Image); Width: 369.00mm (Image); Height: 406.00mm (Mount); Width: 559.00mm (Mount)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: woodblock
  • Subject: shunga
  • Registration number: OA+,0.133.6
  • Production place: Published in Edo
  • Producer: Print artist Utamaro, Kitagawa. Published by Tsutaya Jusaburo. Written by Meshimori, Yadoya
  • Period/culture: Tenmei Era
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum

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