painting proper Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

A courtesan pores over a sheet of poetry paper as she considers what to write. Above her float the words of a love poem, inscribed in the masculine hand of Edo poet Kikuchi Gozan (1769–1849):

Thinking of you, compelled to compose

a verse.

Under the lamplight, writing through the night,

of our lost years.

Is this the poem to which she is crafting a reply? Or has she herself adopted a male voice? Utamaro revolutionized the portrayal of the psychological state of floating-world women, the vast majority of whom were indentured to their "houses" (brothels) by contract, from which a fortunate few might hope to be bought out by a wealthy client. Here, in a surprising twist, the woman’s contemplative gaze is met by the golden-yellow eyes of the muscular carp that looks up at her from the pool of her sumptuously decorated robes.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Kitagawa Utamaro, Japanese (d. 1806)
Seated Beauty
Work Type
painting, hanging scroll
c. 1800–02
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan
Edo period, 1615-1868
Persistent Link
Level 3, Room 3500, Special Exhibitions Gallery
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Physical Descriptions
Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk
painting proper: H. 51.8 × W. 32 cm (20 3/8 × 12 5/8 in.)
overall mounting, including roller ends and suspension cord: H. 139 × W. 46.8 cm (54 3/4 × 18 7/16 in.)
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Promised gift of Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Publication History

Rachel Saunders, "Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection", Orientations, Orientations Magazine (Hong Kong, January/February 2020), vol. 51, no. 1, pp. 20-33, p. 25, fig. 5

Exhibition History

Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 02/14/2020 - 07/18/2021

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at