Utamaro: A Chorus of Birds. Introduction by Julia Meech-Pekarik, translations by James T. Kenney. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/A Studio Book, The Viking Press. (Pages not numbered.) $17.95.
In 1790 the Japanese artist Utamaro, in collaboration with certain versifiers , brought out this book of birds placed in floral settings, each group accompanied by a poem in the form of ''kyota'' or ''mad verse.'' The original, called ''One Hundred Birds in a Competition of Humorous Poetry'' appeared in two volumes, while this admirable facsimile is in one. The pages pull out from the cover so that each double-page picture opens flat, all of them coming from a continuous strip of accordion folds.
Utamaro, whose alluring woodcuts of beautiful women have delighted the world for two centuries, was then at the height of his career, in full command of his art. The little poems, written by many poets, are inscribed, one to a scene, in the most graceful calligraphy. Witty, satirical, amorous, they are attributed to the birds, and we are given an English translation at the back. The birds, true to nature, perfect in detail, are lovely in pose, color, and design whether they are skylarks, egrets, owls, or even chickens. This entrancing book is a real treasure, gentle and cryptic; each page a masterpiece.