Kunisada, Nakamura Utaemon IV as Matsuemon and Seki Sanjuro as Gonshiro

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Nakamura Utaemon IV as Matsuemon and Seki Sanjuro as Gonshiro, 1849. Oban.

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This is a remarkably good double actor portrait by Kunisada from 1849. Two actors, Nakamura Utaemon IV and Seki Sanjuro, are shown as if painted onto wood-grained tablets, cleverly printed to imitate real wood. There is an irony here in that it was commonplace to use the wood grain of the block itself as a decorative element but in this case a special technique, itame-mokuhan, (literally, imitation woodgrain) has been used.  This involved the use of a densely grained woodblock which had been soaked in water to emphasise the pattern of the grain. It is a rare and well regarded technique and done to particular effect in this series.

On the left is the actor Seki Sanjuro as Gonshiro. Gonshiro is the father of Oyoshi from the play, Sakaro.  The hero of the piece is Matsuemon, the character on the right and a master boatman but in reality the samurai and retainer Higuchi no Jirô Kanemitsu. The play is one of revenge, mistaken identity - in this case the son of Oyoshi - and finally resolution. It was a popular subject for printmakers, and Matsuemon the boatman is usually depicted wearing the interlocking decoration that he wears in this print or else clinging to a look out pine tree!

The print is also one of the featured postcards in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s recent boxed set of ukiyo-e, describing itself thus: ‘these 100 postcards feature some of the most spectacular examples of artworks made in the age-old woodblock tradition. All sourced from the V&A's outstanding collection’.

The print itself is nicely articulated. Colour and impression are fine, the condition is very good, some slight toning.

Published by Sanoya Kihei.

24.5 x 36 cm.