Kunisada, Portrait of Genji

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Portrait of Genji from an Unidentified Series, 1852. Oban.

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This selection is about mysteries. The mystery here is one that crops up from time to time, namely - what is this print and why is there no record anywhere of its existence?  It seems a mysterious sort of subject to the unwary, those odd shapes in the top left and the strange, static figure. Regardless of the image defeating all the text books and the internet, nevertheless, some things can be ascertained. The print was sold in Christies New York in 1985 as a Kunisada print - the wobbly oblong cartouche to the left is his signature, enclosed in an elongated Toshidama seal… it reads; Toyokuni ga - drawn by Toyokuni. Kunisada changed his name to that of his teacher, Toyokuni, after 1844, confusingly.

The upper left cartouche is two halves of a sea shell, the first depicts a rustic scene, the second, some Japanese numerals. The shell motif suggests that the scene is from a series… it is common to have a repeating ‘holder’ for series information that remains the same on each print, and the shell is usually associated with prints about the popular novel, Genji Monogatari, or 'The Tale of the Genji'. Genji Monogatari can be said with some justification to be the first true novel. Written in the eleventh century by the noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu, it details the life and love affairs of Prince Genji. It is a long, psychological piece that has had profound influence on literature both within and outside Japan. In Edo, in the mid- nineteenth century, Genji-Fever became a tremendous fad, with novels, prints, new translations, plays and fashions all dedicated to the revival of this old literary romance. Kunisada especially devoted dozens of series, single prints and triptychs to the subject. 

This print is extremely rare - unknown, as far as I can tell. It probably depicts Prince Genji in a superb robe, described in exquisite bokashi shading. He stands before various miniature trees and garden ornaments, signifying great wealth and luxury. This is a superb print, condition is outstanding, colour and impression are both fine.

25 x 36 cm.