Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Virtuous Women For the Eight Views: Night Rain at the Hunting Ground, 1842 - 43. Chutanzakuban.
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This very delicate, small and perfectly described print is from rare and highly regarded series by Kuniyoshi, Virtuous Women For the Eight Views. The necessity of making pictures of virtue and morality has been discussed before. The Tenpo Reforms of 1842 instructed artists to produce prints that would educate and morally inspire women and children, rather than their stock in trade of actors, prostitutes and warriors. Artists were quick to make print series that at least appeared to follow the government guidelines… this series is a case in point. In eleventh century China, eight views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers developed as a formalised series of landscape paintings. They represented views of the rivers and wetlands around Lake Dongting. The same eight views - autumn moon, lingering snow, evening glow, vesper bells, returning boats, clearing weather, night rain and homing geese are likened to virtuous women from Japanese history and legend in this series of prints. There are numerous print series which are used as analogies to the eight views, some obvious, some obscure and some subversive.
In this series, Kuniyoshi uses the stock women of virtue from history to illustrate various scenes, one of whom is a heroine (albeit with a small role) of the great Soga Brothers saga. In the twelfth century two rival lords fell out; Lord Kuto killed Lord Ito who left two infant boys, Juro and Goro. Their mother remarried and they took their stepfather’s name Soga. At five, they vowed revenge on their father’s death and by maturity they were committed to carrying out the plan. In 1192 on the occasion of a hunting party, they ambushed Kuto, slaying him in his tent. They were set upon by Kuto’s retainers who killed Juro and captured Goro. Despite the justice of their case, Goro was executed on the orders of the Shogun. There is a good summary of the Soga Brothers story here.
Kuniyoshi shows Tegoshi no Shosho the mistress of Soga Goro, assisting the brothers on the night of their revenge. It is always raining in the story and in the often dismal atmosphere of the prints of this subject. The design is beautifully sophisticated, the silhouette of the tent and the rain taking up that of Mt Fuji, the rain, a torrential downpour of black prison bars which predict the dreadful fate of the brothers. The tall shape of the page is beautifully suited to the subject, the colours and the pose of Tegoshi no Shosho superbly imagined and realised. Actually, something of a masterpiece, this print is an exquisite jewel of a Kuniyoshi and the star of this particular selection.
Colour and impression are fine, condition is also very good except some trimming to the top edge.
Published by Iba-ya Sensaburo.
12 x 36 cm.