Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets, 1847. Oban.
One of the less acknowledged achievements of the ukiyo-e artists is their intellectual contribution to the arts. Artists such as Kuniyoshi did not only represent well known dramas or historic scenes, they also made works (especially after the Tenpo Reforms of the 1840’s) that were full of great poetry and literary allusion and metaphor. Nowhere is this clearer than in the fine collection of prints The Hundred Poets Compared. In this series, artists including Kuniyoshi chose poems and fitted these allusive works with an appropriate tale or character. Note however that the poem and the tale are not obviously related - it may only be a word or a syllable or, as in this case, a location. The artist was then obliged to create a design that would, through allusion, relate the two pieces of text to each other through the picture. Often these metaphors or visual puns are elusive and hard for us today to appreciate but they are nevertheless great achievements.
In this fine print, the poem - abstract and full of longing - is paired with the story of a beautiful mistress to a retired emperor. As a reward for his service, his mistress’ unborn child is given to the emperor’s retainer to raise as his own. The mistress is also given as part of the deal. The child grows up to become the national hero Kiyomori, leader of the Taira clan and ruler of Japan in the twelfth century. Kuniyoshi shows us the mistress, holding a sword that represents the unborn Kiyomori. Her simple hut and the snowy night that commemorates the Emperor’s last visit is painted on the decorative screen behind her. The poem reads:
O autumn leaves on the peak of Ogura Hill / if you have a heart / I would that you would wait / for one more royal visit.
This is a fine print from this famous series, in perfect condition, full size and with margins, fine impression and colour.
Signed Chooro Kuniyoshi ga. Published by Isabay Sensaburo. Carver hori Take.