For the first time in nearly 140 years, three paintings by the legendary but mysterious Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806) have been reunited at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—the only location to show all three original pieces in its exhibition “Inventing Utamaro: A Japanese Masterpiece Rediscovered.”
In 2014, the Okada Museum of Art in Hakone, Japan, made an announcement that startled the art world: It had discovered a long-lost painting by Utamaro, “Snow at Fukagawa.” The trio, painted in ukiyo-e style, idealize Edo’s (modern-day Tokyo) “floating world”—pleasure centers of leisure. They reached the Paris art market in the late 1880s and were quickly dispersed.
Museum founder Charles Lang Freer acquired “Moon at Shinagawa” in 1903. “Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara” passed through several hands in France until the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn., purchased it in the late 1950s. “Snow at Fukagawa” had been missing for nearly 70 years before it resurfaced in Hakone.
The Sackler exhibition, on view through July 9, 2017, explores the carefully constructed persona of Utamaro and the many questions surrounding his work and subject matter.