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Doris, Antiques Appraiser
Category: Antiques
Satisfied Customers: 9549
Experience:  Antiques store owner 10+yrs.Best of City Two Years. Collector 56+yrs.USPAP compliant. Member AOA.Founded part of antiques, silver & art collection at local museum.
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I have a Kitagawa Utamaro I First sheet from the album

Customer Question

I have a Kitagawa Utamaro I First sheet from the album Uta-makura: The poem of the pillow. Colour Wood cut can you tell me what it is worth?
Submitted: 8 months ago.
Category: Antiques
Expert:  Doris replied 8 months ago.

Hello and welcome! My name is Doris.
I have been an antiques and art collector as well as dealer and appraiser for over 56 years.
I will be pleased to help you. Please know I do not send pop-ups. Thoughtful responses take time.

Photos are almost always required to give an accurate assessment.

Thank you for the photo of the piece.

It does not look (in the photo) as though the wood is carved, ie, a "wood cut."

It looks like what is called a "wood block print." Wood block prints are made from the pressing of blocks of carved wood to apply figures and colors.

Is it a print or is the wood actually carved?

Can you send me a photo of the back?

To send photos you may use the "add files" in the blue box link on your reply page or the "paper clip" found in the toolbar you see on your reply page.
Please do not send in ZIP format. The jpg or jpeg format works best.

An explanation of this method can be found here:

Kind regards,

Expert:  Doris replied 8 months ago.

By the way, I have an original Utamaro woodblock print handing in my living room.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Kind regards,


Customer: replied 8 months ago.
Sure thing I am attaching the label on the back
Expert:  Doris replied 8 months ago.

This is not a woodcut in spite of what the label says. My family collected woodblock prints from the 1950s until their deaths in the late 1990s. They donated some to local museum.

I have continued collecting them, too.

See Utamaro's biography:

Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese: 喜多川 歌麿; c. 1753 – 31 October 1806) was a Japanese artist. He is one of the most highly regarded practitioners of the ukiyo-e genre of woodblock prints, especially for his portraits of beautiful women, or bijin-ga. He also produced nature studies, particularly illustrated books of insects.

Utamaro's work reached Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, where it was very popular, enjoying particular acclaim in France. He influenced the European Impressionists, particularly with his use of partial views and his emphasis on light and shade, which they imitated. The reference to the "Japanese influence" among these artists often refers to the work of Utamaro.

Yours is an atypical Utamaro print. The ones I have are of portraits of women which he is best known for. The translation of ukioy-e is "floating world." Utamaro's family name was actually Kitagawa but he is known in the art world by the name Utamaro.

What size is yours (in inches, please).

Artist, size and subject matter are used in valuing art.

Kind regards,


Expert:  Doris replied 8 months ago.

The ukiyo-e[a] genre of art flourished in Japan from the 17th through 19th centuries. Its artists produced woodblock prints and paintings of such subjects as female beauties; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna; and erotica. The term ukiyo-e (浮世絵 IPA: []) translates as "picture[s] of the floating world".


Ukiyo-e art flourished in Japan during the Edo period from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, and the art form took as its primary subjects courtesans, kabuki actors, and others associated with the "floating world" lifestyle of the pleasure districts. Alongside paintings, mass-produced woodblock prints were a major form of the genre. Ukiyo-e art was aimed at the common townspeople at the bottom of the social scale, especially of the administrative capital of Edo. Its audience, themes, aesthetics, and mass-produced nature kept it from consideration as serious art.

In the mid-eighteenth century, full-colour nishiki-e prints became common. They were printed by using a large number of woodblocks, one for each colour. Towards the close of the eighteenth century there was a peak in both quality and quantity of the work. Kiyonaga was the pre-eminent portraitist of beauties during the 1780s, and the tall, graceful beauties in his work had a great influence on Utamaro, who was to succeed him in fame. Shunshō of the Katsukawa school introduced the ōkubi-e "large-headed picture" in the 1760s.[6] He and other members of the Katsukawa school, such as Shunkō, popularized the form for yakusha-e actor prints, and popularized the dusting of mica in the backgrounds to produce a glittering effect.

Little is known of Utamaro's life. He was born Kitagawa Ichitarō, probably about 1753. As an adult, he was known by the given names Yūsuke and later, Yūki. His birthplace and the names of his parents are not known.

Apparently, Utamaro married, although little is known about his wife and there is no record of their having had children. There are, however, many prints of tender and intimate domestic scenes featuring the same woman and child over several years of the child's growth among his works.

Sometime during his childhood Utamaro came under the tutelage of the artist Toriyama Sekien, who described his pupil as bright and devoted to art. Sekien, although trained in the upper-class Kanō school of Japanese painting, had become in middle age a practitioner of ukiyo-e and his art was aimed at the townspeople in Edo. His students included haiku poets and ukiyo-e artists such as Eishōsai Chōki.

There are many authorities who believe that Utamaro was Sekien's son. He did live in Sekien's house while he was growing up and the relationship between the two artists continued until Sekien's death in 1788.

Under the name Kitagawa Toyoaki, Utamaro's first published work was the cover to a kabuki playbook entitled Forty-eight Famous Love Scenes which was distributed at the Edo playhouse Nakamura-za. As Toyoaki, Utamaro continued as an illustrator of popular literature for the rest of the decade, and occasionally produced single-sheet yakusha-e portraits of kabuki actors.

The young, ambitious publisher Tsutaya Jūzaburō enlisted Utamaro and in the autumn of 1782 the artist hosted a lavish banquet whose list of guests included artists such as Kiyonaga, Kitao Shigemasa, and Katsukawa Shunshō, as well as writers such as Ōta Nanpo and Hōseidō Kisanji . It was at this banquet that it is believed the artist first announced his new art name, Utamaro. Per custom, he distributed a specially made print for the occasion, in which, before a screen bearing the names of his guests, is a self-portrait of Utamaro making a deep bow.

Utamaro's first work for Tsutaya appeared in a publication dated as 1783: The Fantastic Travels of a Playboy in the Land of Giants,a kibyōshi picture book created in collaboration with his friend Shimizu Enjū, a writer.In the book, Tsutaya described the pair as making their debuts.

At some point in the mid-1780s, probably 1783, he went to live with Tsutaya Jūzaburō. It is estimated that he lived there for approximately five years. He seems to have become a principal artist for the Tsutaya firm. Evidence of his prints for the next few years is sporadic, as he mostly produced illustrations for books of kyoka, literally 'crazy verse', a parody of the classical waka form. None of his work produced during the period 1790–1792 has survived.

In about 1791 Utamaro gave up designing prints for books and concentrated on making single portraits of women displayed in half-length, rather than the prints of women in groups favoured by other ukiyo-e artists.

In 1793 he achieved recognition as an artist, and his semi-exclusive arrangement with the publisher Tsutaya Jūzaburō ended. Utamaro then went on to produce several series of well-known works, all featuring women of the Yoshiwara district.

Over the years, he also created a number of volumes of animal, insect, and nature studies and shunga, or erotica. Shunga prints were quite acceptable in Japanese culture, not associated with a negative concept of pornography as found in western cultures, but considered rather as a natural aspect of human behavior and circulated among all levels of Japanese society.

In 1797, Tsutaya Jūzaburō died. Apparently, Utamaro was very upset by the loss of his long-time friend and supporter. Some commentators feel that after this event, his work never reached the heights previously attained.[who?]

In 1804, at the height of his success, he ran into legal trouble by publishing prints related to a banned historical novel. The prints, entitled Hideyoshi and his Five Concubines, depicted the wife and concubines of the military ruler, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who lived from 1536 to 1598. Consequently, Utamaro was accused of insulting the real Hideyoshi's dignity. He was sentenced to be handcuffed for fifty days (some accounts say he briefly was imprisoned). According to some sources, the experience crushed him emotionally and ended his career as an artist.

He died in 1806 on the twentieth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar (October 31 on the Gregorian calendar), and was given the Buddhist posthumous name Shōen Ryōkō Shinshi. He is believed to have been fifty-three, from which his birth year would be estimated as 1753.

Apparently with no heirs, his tomb at the temple Senkōji was left untended. A century later, in 1917, admirers of Utamaro had the decayed grave repaired.

The above is from Wikipedia. Sometimes I disagree with Wikiperdia but they are right on target here.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Kind regards,


Customer: replied 8 months ago.
Thanks for all the history on him the size is 9"x14"
Expert:  Doris replied 8 months ago.

I thought you might find it interesting.

Thank you for the information and photo. They really help.

Please allow me time to research the data required by your question, calculate current values and write my answer.

I want you to have the best answer.

I thank you in advance for your patience.

Kind regards,


Customer: replied 8 months ago.
Expert:  Doris replied 8 months ago.

See this about the erotic nature of the Poem Of The Pillow.

I did not recognize your woodblock print as an example of Utamaro erotica.

These types of wood block prints tend to sell very high. Value for this type of erotica - rather subtle - sells in the lower range....6,000-8000. It might go higher if it were not for the slight fading. Still, it is just that fading that tells us that is most probably in the group of his printings of this scene and probably not a later copy.

You need to make sure to have it framed with acid-free paper at the back and acid-free mats, too.

As for retail value, I have seen art sell for 4 to 5 times auction values depending on the tastes of the art gallery owner as well as location of the gallery.

In general, a private seller to a dealer, via consignment or at auction can expect 30-60% of estimated retail value.

Insurance replacement values are usually about 20% more than retail values.

If you wish to sell, these are my suggestions -

The internet has your widest pool of buyers. To sell close to estimated retail try the following -

Try ads on sites such as

Suggested auction houses:

I hope I have helped you.

If I can help you with further questions about this answer, please let me know before you rate me.

All my answers are quoted in USA dollars.

I endeavor to give realistic, honest answers in a timely manner.

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Kind regards.


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Customer: replied 8 months ago.
Really you think it is worth that much as a print? It is already in a frame.
Expert:  Doris replied 8 months ago.

His erotica has sold at auction (usually less than retail) for $12,000. I am being conservative. One word of caution, later copies were made. If this is not one of the original group done by Utamaro himself, the value could be less. The blocks that were used to make these were often not destroyed. I cannot tell from a photo. Only this can be affirmed in person by a true museum authority. It would be helpful to get more information from the museum where it was displayed but I am slightly dubious of their knowledge.

If in the original group, again, it would be worth every bit of the amount I quoted. Museums have ultraviloet lights that can tell more about your piece.

Keep in mind that Utamaro is the most sought after Japanese wood block artist.

I hope this helps.

Positive, please.

Kind regards,


Customer: replied 8 months ago.
Is there anyway I can tell if it's a copy?
Expert:  Doris replied 8 months ago.

Is it under glass? If not, you might try running your fingers across to see if it feels slightly rough. I would not remove it from the frame. That might cause harm to the piece.

I will take a picture of the Japanese characters ("letters") on mine. You can see if it the signature matches yours. Some of the characters are probably the name of the piece so not all might match. Check to see there are several in a series that do. That series should be the signature.

One really positive thing is that it is a possible book size. See if the margin has any signs of having been a page in a book; however, the margins I see in your photos are very narrow as though they have been trimmed.

Take a magnifying glass and look for two things -

Are the edges of the printed part slightly uneven?

Are there any geometrically patterned white dots showing through the color.

Give me about 15 minutes to take the picture.

My best,


Expert:  Doris replied 8 months ago.

Here it is.

Let me know if it matches.

Expert:  Doris replied 8 months ago.

Have you had a chance to see if the signatures match?

Kind regards,


Customer: replied 8 months ago.
Mine does not have any signatures on it, if you look at the picture I sent you you can see that...
Expert:  Doris replied 8 months ago.

I did examine your piece carefully.

My best,


Expert:  Doris replied 8 months ago.

Would you like for me to recommend a appraiser within driving distance of you?

I am very concerned about the authenticity of your print since it is unsigned and the theme is not a usual one for genuine, original Utamaros.

Please tell me a large city near you.

Kind regards,


Customer: replied 8 months ago.
Pittsburgh pa
Expert:  Doris replied 8 months ago.


Appraising Japanese woodblock prints is a very specialized field.

I was unable to locate an appraiser that specializes in that field.

This is an art appraiser that lives in PA.

Pamela E Mayo


Sewickly, PA 15143

(###) ###-####/p>

These do not live near you but advertise they specialize in Japanese Art. They are worth contacting via internet. If they ask you to ship your print, then try to do it. This type of appraisal can be much more expensive than this site is. The money would be well spent if your print is a truly an Utamaro.

Greg C Brown

Bainbridge Island, WA

(###) ###-####/p>


Shawne MacIntyre

Vancouver BC, Canada

(###) ###-####/p>

These last two sound just perfect for you.

I truly hope my doubts about your print prove to be wrong.

Kind regards,


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