‘Drying Clothes’ by Kitagawa Utamaro

Enjoy a warm summer’s day looking over the rooftops of Edo, the city now known as Tokyo.

Drying clothes (c. 1790) by Kitagawa UtamaroOriginal Source: https://chesterbeatty.ie/

On a summer’s day in Edo (modern Tokyo), a group of women are gathered on a rooftop platform setting out clothes to dry and chatting.

Printed in ink and colours from woodblocks carved by master craftsmen, we can enjoy the details of their elegant attire and their relaxed mood.

Each of the three sheets of this print carries the signature of Kitagawa Utamaro. One of Japan’s most famous artists, he is known particularly for his beautiful depictions of women.

Under Utamaro’s careful hand, the glances of the women draw the composition together, and guide the eye to small details …

… such as the child tugging at a woman's robe …

… and the cat stealing over the balustrade in search of its prey.

While Utamaro designed the print, it was the publisher who managed (and likely instigated) its production. The ‘Iwa’ seal identifies the publisher as Iwatoya Kisaburō, who had his shop at Nihonbashi.

The publishing industry thrived in Edo and this print celebrates life in the city. Mount Fuji can be glimpsed across the rooftops …

… as can the masts of fishing boats on the water.

But it is the warmth of early summer that permeates the image: a loosened robe …

… a fan held lightly in hand …

… and a cuckoo chasing on the breeze.

CBL J 2538
Triptych colour woodblock print of ‘Drying clothes’ by Kitagawa Utamaro, published by Iwatoya Kisaburō; printed in Edo (modern Tokyo), Japan, around 1790.

Credits: Story

All text and images © The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

Exhibit presented by Mary Redfern
Chester Beatty, Dublin, Ireland

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