Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road #5: Omiya, 1852. Oban.
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A very lovely print from one of Kuniyoshi’s outstanding series, The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road. There was a frenzy of travel-based print series around the mid-century, initially as artists tried to avoid the censorship that hampered their work, but then later series enjoyed playing with the idea of dividing series up in this narrative format. In this great series, Kuniyoshi takes the sixty-nine rest stations along the inland highway that connects Kyoto with Edo (Tokyo). The coastal route was the Tokaido Road. Instead of using actors as subjects, Kuniyoshi here used historic or legendary figures that may have had a connection with the relevant village or station.
Kuniyoshi illustrates the humiliation of a defeated northern nobleman whose rugged clan has been destroyed: Abe no Muneto is seen here kneeling before the refined noblemen of the eleventh century court at Kyoto where he has been transported. Mocking his crude, northern manner, one of the nobles taunts him with a plum blossom, assuming that he is to ignorant to know what it is. To their amazement Muneto replies with a perfectly composed and courtly poem…
To me it looks like
Plum blossoms of my country,
But as for you, oh
Nobles of this august court,
What would you deign to call it?
The station here is Omiya; the name translates as Great Shrine, referring to the ancient shrine there. The word also means Imperial Court and is why Kuniyoshi illustrates this stop with this scene. Plum branches decorate the cartouche on the right and a supposed scene of the place is shown in the left hand one.
This series is really one of Kuniyoshi’s outstanding later achievements. These prints of the mid-century have the flamboyant technical qualities that were rarely bettered… the colour is rich and soft, the block carving is confident and exceptional and the overall quality of the drawing and the production are really outstanding. This is an excellent Kuniyoshi, colour, impression and condition are all fine, superb shomen-zuri to the robe. The print has been trimmed to the left hand edge.
Published by Minatoya Kohei.
23.5 x 34.5 cm.