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Although these prints share similarities in composition, format, printing techniques, and the subject matter of beautiful women in elegant kimonos, the treatment of space is quite different. Toshikata’s space flows logically and perceptibly in a seamless manner from foreground to middle ground to deep distance.
Utamaro treats space somewhat randomly. We can certainly read which objects and figures exist in front of others, but just as the clouds and trees in the landscape painting on the byobu (screen) in the background have been stylized, so has the handling of space. The lack of spatial depth pushes everything up against a frontal plane, but the resulting flatness highlights the individual figures and objects.
The rationality of spatial handling in Toshikata’s print echoes the spirit of the age in which it was produced—an era of rapid modernization during which the fledgling Meiji government promoted bunmei kaika ("enlightenment and civilization") in its efforts to catch up with the West.
Jan Luhl, Paris (1) (Thomas French).
(1) Information provided by Thomas French, October 2006