Kunisada, Four Seasons of Genji - Winter

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Four Seasons of Genji (Genji shiki no uchi): Winter (Fuyu), 1858. Oban Triptych.

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A really terrific print of the Toyotoshi Shrine in Kobe near Osaka. The untangling of the subject is relatively straight forward… Prince Genji is the star turn in the great, Tale of the Genji (Genji Monogatari), an epic novel of the 11th century. The book became fantastically popular in Edo Japan and was reprinted in the nineteenth century leading to outbreaks of ‘Genji Fever’. Woodblock artists produced hundreds of Genji related prints, this being one of them. It is from a series of four triptychs, each depicting a season. This lovely triptych is Winter, as celebrated at the Toyotoshi Shrine.

Genji is visible, being carried in a palanquin (Norimono), on the extreme left, looking out of the window, in delight. His attendants bear his coat of arms, mon… that is the square interlace device, on their kimono. I stick my neck out here, but I think that the prominent attendant in the blue coat is a self-portrait by Kunisada, seen from behind… a Hitchcockian conceit he used more than once. Elsewhere in this joyous print we see the temple precinct alive with activity… here are shops selling souvenirs, models of the temple building… another is selling branded water buckets and drums and great rope bell pulls, buddhist symbols, demons (real or imagined), people pushing past carrying flower and fruit offerings and all of it a profusion of colour, texture and temperament.

Henri Joly whose work, Legend in Japanese Art is the subject of this show, has this to say on Prince Genji… the clan history:

GENJI, another reading of the word MINAMOTO, name of the clan descended from the Emperor SEIWA (856-877), which proved a terrible adversary of the FUJIWARA, and later in 1185 defeated the TAIRA at Dan no Ura after a war which lasted thirty years (GEMPEI war). The victor, YORITOMO, became Shogun, but died, after having driven his half-brother, YOHITSUNE, to commit suicide. The GENJI clan became extinct in 1219, when SANETOMO, second son of Yoritomo, was treacherously murdered by his nephew KUGYO, son of Yoriiye, on the staircase of the temple of Hachiman, at Kamakura.

And again on the great work of fiction:

GENJI MONOGATARI ; Lengthy novel in fifty-four volumes, written at the end of the Xth Century by the poetess MURASAKI SHIKIBU (q.v.). Thirty-one of its chapters are devoted to the adventures of Prince Genji, and the number of personages it includes necessitates a biographical volume in itself.

A fine print, quite rare as a complete triptych, this is a fine edition, with complete margins. Colour, impression and condition are all fine.

Publisher Maruya Jinpachi (Marujin, Enjudo).

77cm x 37cm.