Welcome to the new exhibition at Toshidama Gallery, Kuni, Kuni, Kuni: Three Giants of Japanese Prints. As a brand "Kuni" was the most successful in nineteenth century woodblock prints and this syllable really does seem to contain all of the ukiyo-e of the Edoists in its short capacity. First coined by Toyokuni I in the 1780's, combining the first syllable of his master Toyoharu's name with the freshly conceived "Kuni" - for which we have no handy explanation!
Toyokuni's two most successful pupils took the "Kuni" part of his name in his honour: Kunisada and Kuniyoshi and, along with Kunichika, who was Kunisada's most famous student, bestrode the nineteenth century woodblock scene like giants. We are pleased to present a selection of prints by these three artists.
Most outstanding among the Kuniyoshi prints are the superb portrait of Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as Sukeroku, which is also our Featured Print this month, as well as a fantastic example of the highly sought-after series Celebrated Treasures of Land and Sea: Shrimp from Ise. Of course kabuki portraits and complex mitate are not what Kuniyoshi is most famed for; but deservedly his spectacular musha-e, which are represented by the terrific Shichibyoe Kagekiyo Resisting Arrest at Todaiji Temple.
Kuniyoshi's contemporary, Kunisada, was of course most known for his kabuki portraits and we have some exceptional examples, such as Both Sides of the Leaf, Past and Present: Iwai Hanshiro V and Iwai Hanshiro VIIand Thirty-six Imaginary Poets: Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as Tokijiro, the latter with breathtaking gofun detail. Also outstanding is the portrait of Lord Hojo Tokimasa Dreaming Benzeiten.
The second half of the century, following the Meiji revolution and the opening up of Japan to the West, saw the last flourishing of woodblock printing, with Kunichika its primary exponent. He revitalised the kabuki industry and produced some of the most lavish and inventive prints of the century. We have four outstanding triptychs on show, most notably Nakamura Shikan IV as Daihachi and Onoe Kikugoro V as Tatsugoro in which Baiko sports a terrific tattoo; and Ningen Banji Kane no Yo no Naka with its strange Western hairstyles, an adaptation of a play by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
We hope you will enjoy the exhibition and find something to interest you. Don't forget to subscribe to the mailing list for your 10% discount code, and for further reading on Japanese woodblock prints and culture, do visit the Toshidama Gallery Eblogger and Wordpress sites.