Yoshitoshi, Portrait of an Actor as Fujikawa Mizuemon

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Portrait of an Actor as Fujikawa Mizuemon, 1862. Oban.

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A great rarity, this print of an actor, (possibly Ichimura Uzaemon), in the role of the tragic villain Fujikawa Mizuemon. Rare because the print is from the first proper year of Yoshitoshi’s career as an artist. Yoshitoshi is of course one of the great towering geniuses of the late period of nineteenth century Japanese art, possibly one of Japan’s greatest artists. These early prints in the pure Utagawa style are very scarce; this one is quite outstanding, in very fine condition, with extremely fine bokashi shading and a very fine and early impression.

Yoshitoshi’s first known print is a triptych from 1853 when he was just 14 years old. After this piece and from his remaining years as a student of Kuniyoshi, little is known. His first known works otherwise date from the same year as this print, 1862, the year after the death of his teacher and employer, Kuniyoshi in 1861. The print is fascinating… there is little of Kuniyoshi in the drawing, much more of Kunisada (this being an actor print) and a very compelling similarity to the work and drawing style of his colleague and rival, Kunichika. At this stage, Kunichika was probably the more original draftsman, having said that, the pose and subject matter are drawn directly from a Kuniyoshi print of the same subject made as a contribution to a multi-print series, The Fifty-three Parallels of the Tokaido Road from 1845-46. 

The subject was a popular kabuki play about the revenge of Ishikawa Hyosuke against Akabori Mizuemon which was dramatised by Chikamatsu in the play Katakiuchi Ukiki no Kameyama. Mizuemon (shown here) had provoked Hyosuke's father into doubting his wife's virtue and killing her. Hyosuke is exacting revenge for his mother's death. This print may refer to that drama or to another on the same subject, Hitori Tabi Gojusan Tsugi, (Travelling Alone to the Fifty-three Stations)

The print is nevertheless a real rarity for the collector of Yoshitoshi. These early pieces are hard to find and I can find no other example outside of Japan. Colour, condition and impression are all fine. A great piece.

Signed Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi.

25 x 36 cm.