Hiroshige, Grand Series of New and Old Ballad Dramas - Act 3 Chushingura

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) Grand Series of New and Old Ballad Dramas: Act 3 Chushingura, 1847. Oban.

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This is a rare and unusual Hiroshige from an incomplete and ill-recorded series. The subject, with its bold use of Fuji in the background is act III of the Famous drama, the Chushingura. In 1702 Lord Asano of Ako was provoked by Kira Kozukensuke into drawing his sword in the shogun's palace, for which he was forced to take his own life. Forty seven of his retainers became Ronin - samurai without masters. They vowed revenge on their leader and attacked Kira's palace the following year, decapitating him and carrying his head to lay on Asano's grave. They in turn took their own lives. Because of censorship laws prevailing at the time, direct reference to the action was sometimes forbidden and names were substituted or the place and time of the events disguised.

Chushingura remained a firm favourite among dramatists and audiences and hence among wood block artists. This print is one of eight prints known from a series that was carried out between 1847 and 1852. The print shows Hayano Kanpei - retainer of Enya and Okaru - lady in waiting to Kaoyo, lover to Kanpei from the final scene of Act III. Kanpei has been more interested in his lover than his master and blames himself for the disaster that has unfolded. Outside, Kanpei hears of what took place and is ashamed at being absent from his master's side when he was needed most. Kanpei therefore readies himself to commit seppuku. Okaru successfully stays his hand by pointing out that she, not he, should be the one to die for this transgression; after all, Kanpei had abandoned his lord at her suggestion. She then persuades him to flee to her parent's house in the country where they can wait for the arrival of Yuranosuke, Enya's chief retainer and mastermind of the revenge plot.

I especially value these figure scenes by Hiroshige, they are scarce in number but nevertheless so competently and sensitively handled. A collectible print, with a delightful and typical landscape and of course a scene of Mt Fuji. The only other copy that I know of is in the Honolulu Museum of Art. Colour and impression are fine, condition is very good allowing for slight soiling to the bottom right.

Published by Sanoya Kihei