Kitagawa Utamaro, 1753/54–1806
Love for a Farmer’s Wife, 1795–96
Color woodblock print (nishiki-e)
Bequest of Richard P. Gale 74.1.152
Cat. no. 99

Utamaro’s picture of a farmer’s wife was inspired by the kyōka poem by Ki no Masanari reproduced in the fan-shaped cartouche.

Once the seeds of love
are sown
in the flooded paddy,
let our union
be watertight.

Utamaro indicated the woman’s humble lot through her plain kimono with unfashionable plaid trim and her untidy hair. Few lowly farmers ever experienced the stylish culture that flourished in the major metropolitan areas. Within that rarefied milieu, worldly sophistication and wit were highly prized and assiduously cultivated. Farm women, naïve and uneducated, were typically regarded as the least attractive among all classes of women. This daring depiction suggests that Utamaro sympathized with their difficult circumstances. Despite the prevailing attitude, Utamaro rendered the farmer’s wife with unexpected charm. Here, her unaffected smile and disheveled clothes (brought about by hard work) suggest an innocence quite distinct from the cultivated coquettishness of more refined women of the time. The sentiment expressed in Masanari’s kyōka reinforces Utamaro’s sympathetic vision.