Yoshitaki, Snow Scene in Theatre

Utagawa Yoshitaki (ca 1841 - 1899) Snow Scene in Theatre, 1860’s.  Deluxe Chuban Triptych.

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This is a rare triptych indeed; I can find no record of it anywhere. So much of Osaka’s cultural history has evaporated; much less is known of Osaka kabuki - the plays, the actors and the performances - Edo still dominates Japan's nineteenth century cultural history. The print stands for itself though doesn’t it?

A fine triptych, three figures of children set in the snow, perhaps a temple precinct judging by the stone andon on the left and the perimeter wall. In the background a snow Daruma. In Japanese, these are called, yuki daruma and are quite often seen in woodblock prints. Daruma in any form are Buddhist good luck tokens; their history goes back to the 6th century and a monk called Bodhidharma. It was said that his nine years of constant seated meditation left him with atrophied legs, which became the idea behind the round shape of the doll. Today, people who need a bit of Bodhidharma’s perseverance and strength without the pain of atrophy can opt to buy a daruma doll instead.

The child on the right is carrying a snow rabbit. I suggest, but it is only a suggestion, that the child in the centre is Kintaro, known as Kaidomaru as a child. The antiquarian, Henri Joly has this to say about the boy:

The child of the forest, found, according to some, by the wife of Sakata no Tokiyuki in a dismal corner of the Ashigara Mountains, while another version has it that the boy, son of the ronin Kurando, was lost in the mountains by his mother, Yaegiri, and picked up by the mountain nurse, the Yama Uba, who adopted him and named him Kaidomaru. This latter version is generally adopted. Kintaro grew to an enormous strength, wrestling in the mountain with all the beasts and goblins, including the monkey, the stag, the bear, and the Tengu, and he is frequently represented fighting one or other of the last two. His usual companions are the deer, the hare, and the mischievous "red back," the monkey. His weapon is an enormous axe, and on children's kites he is often depicted carrying it.

One of his celebrated feats was the uprooting of a huge tree, with which he made a bridge over a foaming torrent for himself, his three followers, and the female bear once when they had been surprised by a storm on their way home. One day, when Yorimitsu (Raiko) was in need of a squire, he noticed a curious cloud over a mountain, and sent his retainer, Watanabe no Tsuna, (some versions say Sadamitsu), to investigate and report. The warrior found in a hut the Yama Uba with Kintaro, who, the witch said, was longing to become a warrior. The strong boy was brought to Raiko, who attached him to his person, and thereafter let him share his exploits against the goblins, ogres, etc., which appear to have been very numerous around Kyoto in the eleventh century.

It is hard to find a print of Kintaro without a hare or rabbit in it, and the child in the centre with the distinctive stick, also a feature of his iconography, is I think that child. The print is probably from a dance piece about the boy hero and it would have used rich allusion and metaphor to bring the story of his life to the audience.

Three chuban sheets, backed onto the original Japanese album paper. Deluxe burnishing and printing throughout, mica and other metallic embellishments. Colour, impression and condition, all fine.