Kunisada, Stories of a Chivalrous Man in a Theatrical World - Ichimura Kakitsu IV as Goshaku Somegoro

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Stories of a Chivalrous Man in the Theatrical World (Rien Kyokaku-den):Ichimura Kakitsu IV as Goshaku Somegoro, 1863. Deluxe Oban.

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Arguably one of Kunisada’s finest series and executed the year before he died. In these very late series, Kunisada seems to have been conscious of that very modern idea of legacy. The late series are lavishly printed, exceptionally coloured, thoughtfully designed and beautifully produced. They are even extravagantly signed: nanajuhachi sai Toyokuni hitsu -"by the hand of the 78 year old Toyokuni".

The prints in this great series are all of otokodate… tough, chivalrous young men who committed honourable if not legal acts on behalf of the deserving poor… or at least that is the myth, promulgated by the kabuki plays of the mid-19th century. In this piece from the play Koi moyo furisode myoto, Kunisada pictures the otokodate as a firefighter, climbing a ladder with a grapple iron in one hand and a lantern in the other.

Edo was a vast city… equal to many of today’s international centres. There was little or no law keeping, no police force and very little social structure imposed from central government. Communities were self policing and the otokodate, these roguish young males held positions as firemen and gatekeepers and bouncers, an unruly militia of sorts. In popular culture, they were chivalrous and tough… stealing from the lazy upper class and giving to the impoverished populace, breaking up fights and becoming the heroes of popular kabuki dramas, penny novels and of course, woodblock prints such as these. Often these characters are shown with impressive and artistic tattoos, in the style of Kuniyoshi and his series 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden.  It is from those prints and the images made popular by the otokodate that we now have the all over body tattoo and tattoo sleeves popular all over the world today.

A superb example of Edo woodblock printing at its best. A brilliant design with exquisite, overprinted designs on the riotous clothing and the patterned cloth. Sprinkled micah to dark top edge. Colour, impression and condition fine, some little wear to edges.

Publisher: Hiranoya Shinzo.

Carver: Hori Ota Tashichi.

36.5 x 24.5 cm.