Toyohara Chikayoshi (Active 1870 - late 1880) Various Actors as Ono no Komachi (L) and Otomo no Kuronushi (R). From the dance Snow Bound Barrier of Love, 1879. Oban diptych.
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This exciting and unusual print is a type known as komochi-e or trick print. They are hugely unusual and very rare to find in one piece and in such fine condition as this example. The print has four different overlaid pieces of paper (five images) for each of the two heads. Each separate image shows a different actor playing the role of the principal characters. What makes the print even more unusual is that it is by a female artist, Toyohara Chikayoshi. Chikayoshi was a student of Kunichika, and the influence of Kunichika is very evident in the design and composition. She produced a second print in the same vein depicting the scenes from the Chushingura, also with five actors.
The scene here shows pantomime villain, Otomo no Kuronushi disguised as a barrier guard called Sekibei from the play, The Snow Bound Barrier of Love. Ono no Komachi is come to meet her fiancé Munesada, Sekibei is drunk and talks of his plans to overthrow the government using stolen seals of office, one of which is picked up by Komachi. Confusion reigns, as Sekibei in drunkenness mistakes the blood-stained sleeve hidden in a koto for a mystical sign. He takes his axe to a nearby cherry tree, the spirit of the cherry tree assumes the form of Sekibei’s dead lover and the two engage in a life and death struggle. The print shows Komachi trying to gain entrance to the border crossing, obstructed by literally, a snow bound barrier.
All well and good, except that the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum identify it as the dance Kuronushi, The scene is perfect of course for one of these trick prints. The dance was meant to be performed by five different actors hence the five different and (entertainingly for the time), interchangeable paper flaps. The piece is a poetry contest between Komachi and Kuronushi, the most lauded poets of their age. Kuronushi, the villain, tricks the judges into believing that his rival has plagiarised an existing poem by writing his rivals out in an old volume of poetry. Komachi solves the problem by washing the poetry anthology in water so that the new ink is dissolved and the old poems remain and she is vindicated. Like in the Snow Bound Barrier, Kuronushi is revealed as having seditious designs on the government.
Both plays fit the scene… visually I think the balance is on the print depicting the Snow Bound Barrier, not least because of the resemblance to a print of the same subject by Chikayoshi’s mentor Kunichika. However, the five actors playing the same characters in the dance drama also has its merits. Nevertheless, it is impossibly rare to find these novelty ‘lift the flap’ prints in such good condition with all of the sheets still attached.
A rare and well preserved print in good condition, fine impression and colour. There is some wear, as expected to some of the flaps, but all are present, adhered and un-torn. The two sheets are attached onto Japanese album backing paper.
37cm x 50cm.