Kunichika, Comparisons of Kabuki Actors - Kitsune

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Comparisons of Kabuki Actors (Haiyu kyogen Kurabe): Kitsune (Fox) 1886. Oban.

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This mysterious print shows the actors Onoe Kikugoro as Minosaku (in the building) and Nakamura Fukusuke as Yaegaki Hime (holding the magical helmet). This is a fine impression of the first edition of the print, with the three colour cartouche, bokashi and other embellishments. Particularly subtle is the printing of the ghostly image of the fox in the waters of the marshy river at the bottom right. There is an extremely long section (198) on Foxes in Henri Joly’s book, Legend in Japanese Art, which informs this selection:

The Fox bears the name of Kitsune, and is reputed an evil creature, a great many degrees more so than the Badger (Tanuki) and capable of demoniacal powers, such as possession. This form of misfortune bears the recognised name of Kitsune-tsuki, and, according to B. H. Chamberlain (Demoniacal possession in Things Japanese), the belief in it is still strong, even in these years of enlightened scepticism. The belief in foxes' magic came from China about the tenth century, and the mere description of the evil deeds of foxes would fill a volume. An essay on the subject will be found in Lafcadio Hearn's Unfamiliar Japan. The Inari fox, by exception, is a well-disposed creature, perhaps the messenger of the God of rice and harvest had to become benevolent, but the others, the field fox, the Kokko, the Jenko, Reikko, are bad, and worse than all is the man fox, the Ninko, or Hoto Kitsune.

Foxes are long-lived animals; at the age of a hundred they may possess human beings, or delude them by taking the form of women... Like the badger, the fox disguises itself as a priest, or uses its belly as a drum (Kitsune no ham Isuziuni), or generates the fox fire (kitsune-bi), the Will-o'-the-wisp. With its distended belly it is, like the badger, some- times shown with the Fugu fish, playing with Hotei at To hachi ken. They occasionally shave men's heads, and make them look like monks ; other fox tricks consist in eating the grease of candles after extinguishing them, of deluding blind men in following them about, grasping their tails, which they believe to be the kimono of some friendly guide.

In our print, Princess Yaegaki intends to warn her lover that he is danger. She leaves the palace of Takeda Shingen taking with her the magical helmet that he has stolen. We see Takeda in the background, the helmet is possessed by the spirit of benevolent foxes and the princess uses its powers to guide her across the treacherous marshes and frozen waters of Lake Suwa.

This is a pleasing Kunichika, first edition and emphatically printed with complicated shifts of colour and over printing, emphasis is given to the magical helmet with deeply embossed lines. Colour, impression and condition all fine.

23.5 x 34 cm.