Utamaro and the Lure of Japan

January 7—March 26, 2017

artworks in the Utamaro and the Lure of Japan exhibition

Utamaro and the Lure of Japan celebrated rarely exhibited Japanese art at the Wadsworth Atheneum. With more than 50 paintings, prints, textiles, porcelain, and armaments taken from the Atheneum’s 1,000-object collection of Japanese art, the exhibition fully explored for the first time the depths of the museum’s holdings in this area.

At the center of the exhibition lay the reunion of two monumental scroll paintings by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806): the Wadsworth Atheneum’s own Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara and its recently re-discovered companion Fukagawa in the Snow from the Okada Museum in Hakone, Japan. Side by side these paintings, which are considered Utamaro’s most ambitious works, offered visitors a renewed assessment of his art and reaffirmed his mastery. Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara is rarely exhibited, and together with its counterpart provided a unique window into Japan during the Edo period (1615-1868).

Kitagawa Utamaro was one of Japan’s greatest artists of “ukiyo-e”—pictures that depicted the “floating world” of ephemeral everyday life, especially the pleasures of love and entertainment, in Edo (now Tokyo) from the early 18th through the mid-19th century. He is known for his portraits of beautiful women, and in the two monumental paintings included in the exhibition specifically celebrate the courtesans who lived in the famous pleasure districts of the time.

The first record of Utamaro’s Snow and Flowers being displayed together is by a wealthy merchant of the Zenno family at Jogan-ji Temple, Tochigi Prefecture, in 1879 when they were shown with a third monumental work, Moon at Shinagawa or Moonlight Revelry at Dozo Sagami (c. 1788, now owned by the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.). The last time Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara was seen by an international audience was in 1995, when it opened the groundbreaking exhibition The Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro at the British Museum in London and the Chiba City Museum of Art.

Exhibition Tours
Saturday & Sunday at 2:30pm
January 14–March 26, 2017
Tours are free with museum admission. Meet by the Museum Shop.

TAP Mobile Tour
Use your smartphone (or borrow an iPod from the Information Desk) to access the museum’s free WiFi and take the Utamaro and the Lure of Japan mobile tour. Look for the tour icon on the wall labels, and enter the number to hear new perspectives on selected objects in this exhibition.

Exhibition Programs
January 8 | Brunch with Hiroya Tsukamoto
January 13 | Gallery Talk with Curator Oliver Tostmann
January 18 | Art Talk: Utamaro’s Snow, Moon, and Flowers in Context
January 27 | Member Morning
February 2 | Art After Dark: The Lure of Japan
February 11 | Second Saturdays: Postcards from Japan
February 18 | Free Admission: Japanese Films
February 19 | Gallery Dance Performances by dancEnlight
February 25 | Gallery Talk & Demonstration: Printmaking in the Age of Utamaro
February 26 | Sunday Serenades: Snow, Moon, and Flowers
March 25 | Food & Film: Tampopo

The Lure of Japan Film Series: Contemporary Japanese Cinema
After the Storm (Umi Yori Mo Mada Fukaku)
Shall We Dance? (Shall We Dansu?)
Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary)
Creepy (Kurîpî: Itsuwari No Rinjin)
Sweet Bean (An)

The Lure of Japan Film Series: The World of Geisha and Courtesans
Utamaro and His Five Women (Utamaro o Meguru Gonin No Onna)
A Geisha (Gion Bayashi)
The Sea is Watching (Umi Wa Miteita)
Memoirs of a Geisha
Sisters of the Gion (Gion No Shimai)
The Life of Oharu (Saikaku Ichidai Onna)

Generous support provided by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the Japan-United States Friendship Commission, Mrs. Barbara G. Ward and Dr. Thomas P. Ward, and The Japan Foundation, New York. Education programs are funded by the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation Fund at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Support for the Wadsworth Atheneum provided in part by the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s United Arts Campaign.


Images left to right: Kitagawa Utamaro, Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara, c. 1793, Ink, gouache, gold and gold-leaf on bamboo paper, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 1957.17; Kitagawa Utamaro, Fukagawa in the Snow, c. 1802-1806, Hanging scroll, color on paper, OKADA MUSEUM OF ART