Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets # 78: Minamoto no Kanemasa, 1847. Oban.
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In 1845 the publisher Ibaya Senzaburo commissioned the three leading artists of the day, Hiroshige, Kunisada and Kuniyoshi, to contribute to an anthology of one hundred poems by one hundred poets. The poem is written at the top of the print and a scene from history or drama is illustrated below, each scene being an obscure allusion to the subject of the poem.
It is a curious fact of art that a superbly drawn and highly considered piece of art such as this by Hiroshige should have so much less value - monetary and critical - than so many of his often hasty and repetitive landscapes. Hiroshige is underrated as a figure draughtsman, and a piece such as this - sensitively drawn and rich in allusion - deserves far more attention than it is usually given.
The subject is an horrific tragedy from the medieval sagas.
On the night before the battle of Ichi-no-tani between the Minamoto and the Taira, Kojiro, son of Kumagai, hears someone in the Taira camp (Atsumori) playing a flute. Kojiro attacks the camp and is captured. His father rescues his wounded son. The next day, Atsumori rides his horse onto the beach attempting to join the Taira ships. Kumagai appears and calls Atsumori to fight. Kumagai realises he is a boy but the boy insists on fighting. With great reluctance, Kumagai cuts off Atsumori’s head. In reality, he has killed his own son, Kojiro. It transpires that the previous evening Kumagai had instead carried away Atsumori and Kojiro had disguised himself as the Taira youth, allowing himself to be killed by his father.
The print shows Kumagai on the beach. Under his arm he carries in a cloth, the head of Atsumori, in reality the head of his own son. The poem mentions the beach at Suma… the beach where the tragedy takes place, Hiroshige illustrates the plovers in the background, also mentioned in the poem, an allusion to the tears of Kumagai. The poem reads:
The crying voices
of the plovers that visit
from Awaji Island -
how many nights have they awakened him,
the barrier-keeper of Suma
A fine piece from possibly the greatest series of ukiyo-e of the mid-nineteenth century. Colour, impression and condition are fine. The print is illustrated in Herwig & Mostow, The One Hundred Poets Compared, Hotei Publishing 2007.
Signed Hiroshige ga. Published by Isabay Sensaburo.