THE PERIOD OF UTAMARO
of the beautiful half-length figures on a mica ground which appeared in and after 1790 in several series and are now among the most coveted creations of the master. They show him in close connection with his fellow-pupil, Nagayoshi (Choki), whose work first came before the public about this time. If finally we take into consideration the actor pictures of Sharaku, we are in a position to visualise the salient features of the phase into which Japanese art had passed in 1790, a phase of unique interest, truly aristocratic alike in its draughtsmanship and in its opulent yet delicately graded colouring—a transition phase between the classic figures of Kiyonaga and the exaggerated proportions of the later Utamaro, according to which he is usually judged.
It is true that soon after he yielded to the general tendency of his age, elongated his figures, imparting to them an ethereal, supple, and fragile nature, and gradually insisted on these attributes to exaggeration, even to impossibility, while his fame of having been the first to give such morbid inclinations completely satisfactory and therefore unsurpassable expression is a title of somewhat doubtful value, even if in any case a high historical significance cannot be denied it. Nevertheless we must not forget that within this domain of the hyper-æsthetic, Utamaro was the creator of a most original and individual style. Nay, if we could only admit the morbid and exaggerated to be as fit subject-matter for art as the healthy and sane, we must grant that this style is one of altogether enchanting originality, and that, however dangerous might be its immediate influence upon the spectator and particularly upon possible successors, it does none the less lift us beyond the cramping limits of reality and is therefore not wanting in idealism of a kind.
Towards the middle of the tenth decade these exaggerated proportions of the body had reached such an extreme that the heads were twice as long as they were broad, set upon slim