Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Fifty-three Parallels for the Tokaido (Tokaido gojusan tsui): Yokkaichi, 1845-46. Oban.
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This is a really very great and somewhat underrated series of woodblock prints made in collaboration between Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi and Kunisada. They also worked on the equally outstanding series A Comparison of the One Hundred Ogura Poets. Each print conforms to a similar format and the stations or post houses along the famous highway connecting Edo to Osaka are paired with historic or mythological characters and scenes. In most cases these equate with the geography or specific place depicted. What makes this 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.
Wehmeyer points out that within the subject of the print - a famous mirage visible above the waters of the sea - the woman, an ordinary person, is depicted in rapt attention at the phenomenon. So much so that she turns away from the viewer and the scene itself is reduced to a mere afterthought in the visual representation. The cartouche contains the very dry description of such a poetic and enchanting scene:
The Fata Morgana Mirage at Nago Bay
During the spring and summer, a mirage appears in this bay. People say that it looks like an imperial pilgrimage to the Grand Shrines of Ise, or the Atsuta Shrine of Owari province. The banners and awnings of the imperial journey are in view to the front and rear, and the outlines of the procession of various daimyō, along with the forms of watchtower palaces, are clearly visible. At times, one sees fishermen. In an instant, the forms fade from view. Investigation of the sight reveals it to be a phenomenon whereby saltwater vapor collides with warm air, and travels upwards. It must be something similar to the shimmering of hot air.
This is a superb print series. This piece is full size with margins, colour and impression are very fine, as is condition barring the common centrefold.
Publisher Kojimaya Chobei.
24.5 x 37 cm.