Kuniyoshi, Aizuri-e of the Kabuki Actor Onoe Kikugoro III

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Aizuri-e of the Kabuki Actor Onoe Kikugoro III, 1832. Oban.

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A very fine and extremely rare Kuniyoshi print. I think that there are only one or two surviving copies of this piece. The role is unknown, and the print is executed in the rare and collectible genre known as aizuri-e. Kuniyoshi did not produce many of these single-colour, blue prints. This piece from 1831-32 is an early example and is particularly well defined… the tones of the blue are graded very delicately across the expanse of the landscape and the detail of the very beautiful figure and costume. The scene is deliciously enlivened by the judicious use of the complementary orange in the lantern and the undergarment.

Aizuri-e refers to Japanese woodblock prints that are printed entirely or predominantly in blue. When a second colour is used, as in the case of this print,  it is usually red or orange. The use of heavier or relatively lighter applications of ink result in the delicate tones as seen in this example.

The development of aizuri-e was associated with the import of the pigment Prussian blue from Europe in the 1820s. Prussian Blue had a number of advantages over the indigo dyes that were previously used to create blue. It was more vivid, had greater tonal range and was more resistant to fading. It was also associated with sophistication - the exotic attributes of almost illegal imports and the allure of foreign culture added to the attraction. This selection of prints is around the theme of change. These changes in taste, the sudden introduction of foreign and European ideas, materials and technologies were an active part of Japan’s mid century drift towards the inevitable revolution of 1864 that would see the feudal traditions of Japan replaced with modern western values. Prussian blue prints were never banned by the government but they must have fretted away at these visible signs of the changing mood of the populace.

A very lovely print, rare and in fine condition. The azure has not faded and the colour and impression are all fine.

23.5 x 35 cm.