Kunimasa IV (Baido), Ichikawa Danjuro in front of the Azuma Bridge

Utagawa Kunimasa IV/Baido (1848-1920) Ichikawa Danjuro in front of The Azuma Bridge, c1890. Oban Triptych.

Click here for a full-size image of the centre panel.

This loud print proclaims the new age in gaudy colours and flamboyant, brushy drawing. Kunimasa IV, Kunisada III,  Hosai Baido… the artist signed and named himself many times in his long life. He studied under the great Kunisada at the age of ten, and went under a variety of guises thereafter. His style is most easily confused with that of Kunichika, his signature during this period is similar which also confuses matters.

I don’t know the name of the play, but the unlikely dress for kabuki and that strange mixture of styles between the central character and the actor on the far right seems to sum up the selection of this month’s prints… a headlong and unplanned clash of cultures, imposed rather than developed and disastrous in their grating differences. Modernity was to win, this would be one of the last images produced in Japan of traditional costume and manners.

Amid the busy festival that is sketched in behind the foreground figures and the baffling cloud in Meiji Red, can be seen the looming towers of the Azumabashi - the Azuma Bridge. Azumabashi, built in 1887, was the first metal bridge spanning the Sumida River.  It was officially dedicated and opened to the public on December 9, 1887.   It served the bustling pleasure quarter of Asakusa on one side and a beer factory on the other.  Japanese woodblock artists drew its vertical posts and diagonal bars in Western perspective and for good measure populated the walkway with ladies in bustles and the deck with top-hatted gentlemen in carriages. 

The clash is evident even here with western engineering and traditional Japanese festival decorations.

The print is in fine condition, backed with Japanese album backing. Colour and impression are fine.

70 x 36 cm.