Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Fifty-three Parallels for the Tokaido Road (Tokaido gojusan tsui) Miya Station: Lady Fuji no Tsubone appearing to her husband, Taira no Tsunemori, 1845. Oban.
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This fine print is perhaps the best known and indeed, one of the strongest designs from a well known and highly regarded series. This series was a collaboration between Kunisada, Kuniyoshi and Hiroshige, and like its sister series, A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets, each artist was responsible for different complete prints, rather than collaborating on individual items. Each print illustrates a scene from legend, folklore, fairy tales or history which is associated with each stage of the Tokaido Road. What makes this series so notable is its depiction of female subjects and their resistance to previous and submissive evocations of male gaze or desire. In addition to the portrayal of women of history, mistresses of famous military heroes, or supernatural female figures, the series depicts ordinary women performing unremarkable daily activities. This is a complicated series and I commend anyone reading this to look at Ann Wehmeyer’s Rethinking 'Beauties': Women and Humour in the Late Edo Tokaido gojusan tsui, Literature & Aesthetics 22 (2) December 2012 page 201.
The image here is captivating. Lady Tsubone appears to be floating out of a small teacup, a beautiful and peaceful image that seems to hover before our eyes. Again, for the unwary there are many unanswered images. There are three parts to the print, the main and lower panel which here depicts the supernatural scene of Lady Fuji no Tsubone appearing to her husband. Above and to the left, a pair of rigid fans which have the story of the scene written on them. To the upper right is the series title in the black rectangle.
In this print, we see the Lady Fuji no Tsubone appearing to her husband, Taira no Tsunemori, a minor member of the Taira (Heike) clan, and the nephew of the clan leader, Taira no Kiyomori. She came from a prominent samurai family and made her way through society and the echelons of the Imperial Court, becoming a powerful figure in seventeenth century Japan. She is something of a modern role model and heroine inside and outside of Japan, appearing in movies and television series such as Basilisk, a 2005 anime and manga show.
She appears as a character in the famous five-act kabuki play Ichi no Tani Futaba Gunki ('The Chronicle of the Battle of Ichi no Tani'), in which the main character's real son is sacrificed to save the life of someone more important (someone who had, moreover, previously performed an important service for them), a common theme in Japanese legend and myth and of course the dominant story in the life of Kan Shojo in the play Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami. Only the climactic act, entitled Kumagai Jin'ya ('Kumagai's Camp'), is usually performed now.
This is a faultless and outstanding early impression with magnificent bokashi shading and extensive gauffrage. Embossing to the cartouche. Condition is fine except for the usual centre fold.
Signed Oju Kunisada, (by special request).
Published by Enshua Matabei.
24.5 x 37 cm.