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Picture book: The laughing tippler vol. 2

circa 1803


Kitagawa UTAMARO


1753? - 1806


Published in c1803, this three-volume set is perhaps the last of Utamaro’s erotic books printed in colour. ‘The laughing tippler’ was popular during Utamaro’s lifetime, not only for its outstanding artistic quality, but equally for the quirky preface that takes the form of a letter by the artist’s fictive wife to his publisher (identifying thus Utamaro as the author). Each of the three volumes opens with a single-page bust portrait of a woman, followed by seven double pages illustrating scenes of sexual intimacy. It ends with a close-up view of the genitalia of the woman portrayed at the beginning. Volume 1 is dedicated to the virgin woman and her sexual fantasies, volume 2 to the married woman and volume 3 to the courtesan. Together, they are a telling portrayal of the sexuality of three different classes of women. The expression warai jôgo refers to someone who laughs when inebriated. It is also a pun on the term for erotic imagery, ‘warai-e’ (literally, ‘laughing picture’). (KT)

‘UTAMARO: Hymn to Beauty’. pg.173
© 2010 Art Gallery of New South Wales

Translation of Preface:
Preface (Please could you send my best wishes to Mr Shimmoji as well.) Permit me to address a few words to you. We haven't yet gotten over this unseasonal cold spell, but I trust that you and yours are all well and prospering. I am afraid that Uta has suddenly had to go off on a pilgrimage to Enoshima at the invitation of a certain personage, and so, unworthy as I am, I have undertaken to complete the colouring of your picture book. I must confess they are rather embarrassing pictures for a woman to be working on, but as they say, a devil-god has a devil of a wife! You seem to be in a particular hurry, and since I am, as luck would have it, sleeping on my own just now, I have been burning the midnight oil working on it each night. I'm sure there is much you will be dissatisfied with, but as you know, when a couple is as extraordinarily loving as we are, then there is no better conjunction of the male and female principles than for the wife to add the colouring to drawings done by the husband. I am confident that I have matched up to the spirit of your picture book and that it will be well received and enjoy good sales. Since I haven't been able to think of any other title for it, I simply suggest to you "The laughing tippler" - a description of my own bad habits, if ever there was one. I do hope you will agree to publish it. With best wishes, Maro's wife. (Asano Shūgō/Timothy Clark, 'The passionate art of Kitagawa Utamaro', Exh. Cat., Chiba City Museum of Art and British Museum, 1995, text volume, Cat. No. 494, p. 285)


Alternative title

Ehon warai jogo

Place where the work was made



circa 1803

Media categories

Book , Print

Materials used

illustrated erotic book ('shunpon'); colour woodblock print


21.7 x 15.4 cm

Signature & date

Signature of preface writer: Maro uchi yori/ Shôroku-sama (From Maro’s wife/To Mr. Shôroku)


Asian Collection Benefactors' Fund 2009


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Kitagawa UTAMARO

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history