Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/319

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THE PERIOD OF UTAMARO

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artist died. His works probably continued for some time afterwards to be imitated, even with misuse of his name, but were never equalled, much less surpassed.

Utamaro has glorified the Japanese woman with an enthusiasm unexcelled in any other age or nation. It is true that he consecrated his worship to a class of woman that stands outside the pale of society and, despite the splendour that surrounds her, is one of the most unfortunate of all creatures; but he did not depict her as she appears in reality, but formed of her an ideal of nobility and loveliness that stamps her as a goddess. It was not until the age declined to complete degeneracy that he degraded this ideal into caricature. Then it was, too, that in contrast to the usual custom he added those vulgar, burlesque masculine figures which were intended to serve as a foil to their beauty, but which brutally destroy the sweet illusion. The women are represented in the most various occupations. One is painting, another composing poems, a third preparing tea; others again are arranging flowers, smoking out of little silver pipes, playing with a mouse; still others at their toilet, colouring their lips, removing hairs from their faces with a strigil, tying their girdles—at the back when an honourable woman, in front when a courtesan—while sometimes holding with their chins a book in which they have just been reading. The artist is in particular inexhaustible in the depiction of the joys of motherhood. The gorgeous robes in which he clothes them are well in keeping with these queenly figures, and their rich patterns illustrate the entire animal and plant kingdoms. But when necessary he well knew how to keep the ornamentation as simple as possible. Certain patterns, says Goncourt, look as though the beauty had returned from a walk under blossoming trees and had brushed off with her sleeve or shoulder some of the petals.

His eye, incomparably sharpened by the study of nature,

K