Hirosada, Mimasu Daigoro IV as Kan Shojo

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Mimasu Daigoro IV as Kan Shojo in the Play Sugawara denju tenarai kagami, 1851. Deluxe Chuban.

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A very fine, a rare and an unusual Osaka print by the great genius of Japanese portraiture, Hirosada. For those unfamiliar with the genre, Osaka prints are almost exclusively actor or stage prints or yakusha-e as they are called. They are distinguished by being (like this example) in the chuban format, which is a half sheet of the more common oban size.  They are very often deluxe prints, produced in far smaller numbers and with exceptional technique and additional colours and effects. They also have a very distinctive drawing style… faces are more almond shaped and the eyes are stiller and more serene, reflecting the different acting style to the larger and moire chaotic stage of Edo (Tokyo).

Traditionally, Osaka prints have been less regarded, less popular among collectors than Edo prints but this is changing and the real brilliance of the genre is at last being recognised. Osaka prints do overlap with the Edo ukiyo-e… the same actors appear (although not always);  likewise the plays can be similar or identical. Most of the best of the Osaka artists trained in the studios of Toyokuni or of Kunisada… as did Hirosada. Not only did Edo ‘school’ the art of Osaka, but the very particular styles and techniques of Osaka migrated back to Edo and were a huge (and unacknowledged) influence on the art of Kunisada and the later, Meiji artists such as Kunichika.

This is a really great print; Hirosada presents the figure of the tragic character, Kan Shojo in a votive frame - unusual for nineteenth century Japan - the metallic iron corners in dense black, the frame itself, printed and embossed to resemble real wood. The white of Kan Shojo’s robes are deeply incised and embossed and the inside sleeves are printed in a richly oxidised metallic. How wonderful and outstanding is the bold decoration on the outer robes, how tragic the visage.

Kan Shojo is the stage name given to an actual noble of the 9th century, Sugawara Michizane. Michizane was an adviser to the Emperor and known to be one of the most erudite, most learned of all men of his generation. Jealous courtiers, a change in the succession and politics of the the 9th century court changed his status and he was eventually disgraced and unfairly exiled. He died of a broken heart and it is there that the really great legends begin… he was said to have returned to wreak havoc on Kyoto and upon his enemies, in the form of a thunder god. He is often pictured as a deity, throwing lightning bolts. He even appears as a character in popular culture as seen on Yokai… .

The print itself is in good condition, there is small wormhole on the left margin and there is some surface wrinkling. Otherwise, colour and impression are outstanding. A really fine and a really very rare piece.

Illustrated in Roger Keyes, The Male Journey in Japanese Prints, University of California Press, 1989, no. 87.

18 x 25 cm.