Yoshitaki, Oni Demon and Catfish

Utagawa Yoshitaki (ca 1841 - 1899) Oni Demon and Catfish, ca. 1871. Chuban.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

The companion print to the monkey dancer, this is another intriguing chuban from Yoshitaki. A fine Osaka piece - chuban format, as is habitual with the school and a quality of paper, ink, production and technique rarely seen in Edo even at this time. This print and its companion piece on the same page seem to my mind to sum up all the great mystery of the Osaka kabuki scene - the prosaic description of stage craft and the otherworldly representation of myth, melodrama and display. The two prints most probably represent a sequence of quick change, short pieces - possibly dance dramas that were popular in Osaka. Beautifully crafted for a coterie audience of fans, collectors and aficionados the Osaka stage is poorly recorded and many performances like this are lost to the records.

This print tells a complex narrative. The figure on the left holds a giant gourd - this was known to be one of the few magical ways to quell the much feared catfish which in the print is lying compliantly underneath. The legends of Japan say that earthquakes and tsunamis are caused by the writhing of a giant catfish (namazu) under Fuji. There were popular prints of the quelling of the catfish (Namazu-e) which appeared after natural disasters such as the Ansei earthquake of 1855. One reading of the print is that the actor on the left is obliged to hold the gourd on the catfish whilst having to confront the feared Oni demon on the right - caught between the devil and the deep blue sea as it were.

A deluxe chuban print of a collectible subject. Very fine condition, and early fine impression with bokashi shading, gauffrage and strong unfaded colour.