Yoshiiku, Onoe Kikugoro as Gonpachi

Utagawa Yoshiiku (1833-1904) Onoe Kikugoro as Gonpachi, 1864. Oban.

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This relatively common and of course gory subject was popular with Edo (Yedo) townspeople, partly because of its melodrama, but also I think, because the tragic struggle of the two protagonists echoed very much the daily lives of the dissatisfied middle classes who were looking to claw their way out of the feudalism imposed on them by the samurai class. The print is superb. Richness and strength of colour, a wonderful portrayal of tragic Gonpachi (Gompachi) and an interesting modern twist… the usual splattered gore of the suicidal sword thrust is here replaced with the puff of smoke and the handle of a musket.

The story of the two faithful lovers is a celebrated one and has been dramatised in many popular plays. In the second half of the seventeenth century, Shirai Gompachi, a skillful swordsman of Inabi, killed one of his clansmen in a quarrel and fled to Edo. On his way he met a girl, Komurasaki, who told him that she was held captive by robbers, and that he, too, would be caught by them unless he hurried away. Gompachi stopped, attacked the robbers, and rescued the girl whom he took to her parents in Mikawa. He then returned to the Edo road, met with another party of robbers, who would have despatched him but for the timely arrival of a man named Chobei, who rescued him and entertained him in Edo. In the Yoshiwara, Gompachi heard of a newgirl, just arrived from the country, and who was called Young Purple. She was no other than Komurasaki, whose people had met with misfortune, and who had sold herself to pay their debts. Gompachi, deeply in love, decided to redeem her, and as he had no money himself, he began a life of crime, killing and robbing people to get enough money wherewith to buy her back. He was caught and beheaded, Chobei buried his body at Ekko-in, and Komurasaki came a few days later to kill herself on his grave. Their common tomb is called the grave of the Shiyoku, and the souls of the two are embodied in the legendary bird Hiyokudori.

A terrific print, very rare. The colour and impression are superb and condition is fine, some archaic album binding holes to the left side. Slight overall trimming.

25 x 35.5 cm.