Hiroshige, A Comparison of the Ogura 100 Poets 54 - Gidosanshi no haha

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets # 54: Gidosanshi no haha, 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.

This print illustrates the story of the tragic wife of the sumo wrestler Jirokichi. Two men, Reizaburo and Kuheiji, are both trying to buy the girl Nishikigi from a brothel. (It is important, I feel, that the contemporary idea that geisha in Edo Japan were in some way not sex workers is challenged. There is a notion that the costume and aesthetics of the period in some way made them not prostitutes. The position of women, and often young girls in these places, whether courtesans or geisha was shocking.) Each must get hold of 200 ryo. Reizaburo, the patron of the wrestler Jirokichi wants him to throw the bout.

Hiroshige pictures Otowa, Jirokichi’s wife, affectionately dressing his hair before the bout. He has told her of the shameful intention to throw the fight and fake a lose. Unable to bear the thought of his shame, she sells herself into prostitution in order to pay the ransom on the other girl. It is a common theme in kabuki theatre and popular romance… the self-sacrifice of a loving wife to save the honour of her spouse. In the print, Otowa has already sold herself and she knows this is the last night of their marriage, and she wishes it was the last night of her life. Jirokichi’s robe is decorated with the thick rope (yokozuna pattern) that denoted the top rank of sumo wrestler. Hand bills that advertise the bout are pinned up in the background. The poem reads:

Because that future, until which,
you say, you will ‘never forget’,
is hard to rely on,
oh, if only today could be
the last day of my life!

Colour, impression and condition are all fine, some trimmed margin to the base. The print is illustrated in Herwig & Mostow, The One Hundred Poets Compared, Hotei Publishing 2007.

Signed Hiroshige ga. Published by Isabay Sensaburo.