Utamaro Kitagawa, Komurasaki and Gonpachi, Lovers, Courtesan


Artist: Utamaro I Kitagawa (1753-1806)
Title: Lovers Komurasaki and Gonpachi
Publisher: Maruya Jinpachi
Date: Late 18th century
Dimensions: 23.3 x 36 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print. 


This print depicts the lovers Komurasaki and Gonpachi. They seem to be conversing, turned towards each other, while he is holding a sake cup. Both of their facial expressions are tender and they seem to be at ease with each other.


Their love story is famous and bittersweet. They met when Gonpachi liberated Komurasaki, a merchant’s daughter, from a group of bandits who had kidnapped her. Sixteen years old at that time, Gonpachi was fleeing his home for having killed another boy during a dispute. Komurasaki warned him about the bandits’ plot to kill him and steal his sword, so he was able to defeat them and get away with her. Both free, Gonpachi declined staying with Komurasaki’s family and carrying on their trade. Instead he moved to Edo, where he encountered Komurasaki years later. She had then become a famous courtesan in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters.


Gonpachi was too poor to buy her freedom and started visiting her frequently instead. He became desperate when money started to dwindle and started killing people, stealing their possessions to be able to see his lover. It is said that he killed about 130 people before being caught and executed. Komurasaki committed suicide in the wake of his death.

Utamaro I Kitagawa (1753 - 1806)

Utamaro Kitagawa is one of the most significant figures in the history of Japanese art. He is best known for his bijinga (prints of beautiful women) and a series of nature studies. He was and remains one of the artists best known outside of Japan, along with Hokusai Katsushika and Hiroshige I Utagawa. 

Born in 1753, he lived most of his life in Edo (today’s Tokyo) and in his childhood studied art under Sekien Toriyama (1712-1788). He later favoured Masanobu Kitao’s and Kiyonaga Torii’s aesthetic who were both famous for their elegantly elongated images of women. In 1788 Utamaro achieved wide recognition for his work when a number of albums of the highest compositional and technical quality aided him in this achievement. These albums were published by Tsutaya Juzaburo, the most famous publisher of his day, and with whom Utamaro would create a large amount of outstanding work. They joined forces to produce innovative designs, which included close-up portraits (okubi-e), three-quarter length portraits with shimmering mica powder background and a vast array of pictures of famous courtesans from Yoshiwara, the licensed red-light district. His style during this time is defined by graceful and elegant ladies, with rich and elaborate garments, posed in such a way that also revealed the inner beauty of the sitter. His favourite motifs were women at their everyday business, making themselves up, bathing, arranging their hair, walking in the garden, mothers with children, and pairs of lovers. 

Utamaro’s focus was always on character and expression. This type of portraits was unusual at the time, which Utamaro recognised and exploited, sometimes signing his work with ‘Utamaro the physiognomist’. Over the years, Utamaro also created shunga (erotic prints), although many these are unsigned due to their licentious nature and not being approved by governing authorities. Utamaro had a number of pupils, who took names such as Kikumaro (later Tsukimaro), Hidemaro, and Takemaro.

More Information
Print FormatOban (Vertical)
ArtistUtamaro I Kitagawa (1753 - 1806)
SubjectBeauty & Female, Samurai & Male, Male & Female
Size23.3 x 36 cm
Condition ReportTwo holes restored with backing. Some darkened areas within the print.