The Easel

Myth-Maker of the Brothel

Utamaro painted refined scenes of beautiful women in Tokyo’s brothels. In truth this “floating world” was not so glamorous nor he its habitué. His celebrated paintings possibly had rather prosaic origins: “Politically oppressive, the authorities nonetheless gave license to men to indulge themselves in amusement. Sex, kept in bounds by rules of social etiquette, was less threatening … than political activity.”