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Three Beauties of the Present Day by Utamaro, 1793
Utamaro (1793) Three Beauties of the Present Time, MFAB 21.6382.jpg
ArtistKitagawa Utamaro

Bijin-ga ( () (じん) (), "beautiful person picture") is a generic term for pictures of beautiful women (bijin) in Japanese art, especially in woodblock printing of the ukiyo-e genre.


Kōjien defines bijin-ga as a picture that simply "emphasizes the beauty of women",[1] and Shincho Encyclopedia of World Art defines it as depiction of "the beauty of a woman's appearance".[2] On the other hand, Gendai Nihon Bijin-ga Zenshū Meisaku-sen I defines bijin-ga as pictures that explore "the inner beauty of women".[3] For this reason, the essence of bijin-ga cannot always be expressed only through the depiction of a bijin, a woman aligning with the beauty image. In fact, in ukiyo-e bijin-ga, it was not important whether the picture resembled the facial features of the model, and the depiction in ukiyo-e bijin-ga is stylized rather than an attempt to create a realistic image.[4] For example, at that time, married women had a custom of shaving their eyebrows (hikimayu), but in bijin-ga, there was a rule to draw the eyebrows for married women.


Ukiyo-e itself is a genre of woodblock prints and paintings that was produced in Japan from the 17th century to the 19th century. The prints were very popular amongst the Japanese merchants and the middle class of the time.

Looking at the history of the development of ukiyo-e bijin-ga from the Edo period to Meiji era, the so called "technical evolution" common to all ukiyo-e prints, in which the accuracy of carving and printing and the vividness of color materials, increased as time progressed. It has been pointed out that the painters that represented the bijin-ga of each era contributed to the stylistic evolution towards maximizing the realistic expression of a real beauty living in that specific era, whilst also adding their own creative expression.[5]

Nearly all ukiyo-e artists produced bijin-ga, it being one of the central themes of the genre. However, a few, including Utamaro, Suzuki Harunobu, Itō Shinsui, Toyohara Chikanobu, Uemura Shōen and Torii Kiyonaga, have been described as the greatest innovators and masters of the form.[citation needed]


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Forbes, Andrew ; Henley, David (2012). Suzuki Harunobu: 100 Beauties. Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books. ASIN: B00AC2NB8Y
  • Hamanaka, Shinji. Female Image: 20th Century Prints of Japanese Beauties. Hotei Publishing 2000. ISBN 90-74822-20-7

External links[edit]


  1. ^ 新村出. (1967). 広辞苑. Iwanami Shoten. 美人画. OCLC 33931612.
  2. ^ Shinchō sekai bijutsu jiten = Shincho encyclopedia of world art. Shinchōsha, 新潮社. Tōkyō: Shinchōsha. 1985. 美人画. ISBN 4-10-730206-7. OCLC 15418683.CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. ^ 座右宝刊行会 (1979). 現代日本美人画全集. 集英社. 美人.
  4. ^ Kobayashi, Tadashi; 小林忠 (2002). Edo ukiyoe o yomu. Tōkyō: Chikuma Shobō. pp. 187–193. ISBN 4-480-05943-1. OCLC 50825592.
  5. ^ Horie, Mari (2017). 錦絵美人画の発展―春信・歌麿から芳年・周延までを軸として―(『美人画名品選―春信・歌麿から芳年・周延まで―』. 展図録所収、足立区立郷土博物館. pp. 2–5.