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  • Thumbnail for A mother seated and reading a letter while her daughter combs her hair
    A mother seated and reading a letter while her daughter combs her hair by Utamaro Kitagawa

    The dominant ukiyo-e artist of the late 18th century, Utamaro is as famous for his legendary life as for his unsurpassed images of courtesans and famous beauties of his day. Bijin-ga (images of beauties) might be of actual contemporary and historic women or of an idealized type of beauty specific to a time and region. Courtesans in particular were usually depicted in the latest and most elaborate fashions of the day. After restrictive censorship laws were passed in the 1840s, many artists turned to generalized pictures of the latest fashions and more domestic settings for their images of beauties. Even in domestic settings many of Utamaro’s prints have a strong element of the erotic.