Kitagawa Utamaro was one of Japan's greatest artists of ukiyo-e, pictures that depicted the "floating world" of ephemeral everday life, especially the pleasures of love and entertainment. He is known for his portraits of beautiful women, many of them courtesans, who lived in the licensed pleasure quarter (the Yoshiwara) of the city of Edo (modern Tokyo).
Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara depicts one of the tea houses that lined the central boulevard of the Yoshiwara quarter during the spring cherry blossom festival. It is a detailed view of the splendid and extravagant excess of the Yoshiwara, a place of brothels, theaters, and revelry. Downstairs Utamaro depicts three high-ranked retinue, admiring the blossoming cherry trees. Upstairs the daughter of a wealthy samurai family (in the purple kimono and red obi on the right) is watching a dance performance. Though one would expect such a scene to include male figures (since in real life the Yoshiwara was designed exclusively for the amusement of men), it was not uncommon for Utamaro and other ukiyo-e artists to depict only women.
Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara, Japanese, Edo period, c.1793
Painting mounted on panel; color on paper, 80 1/2 x 108 1/4 in. (204.5 x 275 cm)
The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund, 1957.17
11 x 17 in. when assembled.