Kunichika, Ichimura Uzaemon, Ichikawa Kodanji in Ichi-no-Tani Futaba Gunki

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Ichimura Uzaemon, Ichikawa Kodanji in Ichi-no-Tani Futaba Gunki, 1864. Oban Triptych.

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A very nice triptych indeed from Kunichika’s great period… the mid-1860’s. These theatre triptychs are confident beyond measure; he went on to stretch the medium in extraordinary and prescient ways, but these lush pieces form the vital link between his teacher, Kunisada, and the approaching cultural fire storm of the Meiji revolution. Three figures occupy one each of the sheets as had been the tradition for kabuki prints for decades. The actor Ichikawa Kodanji dominates the centre sheet, other actors… Ichimara Uzaemon on the left and Onoe Eizaburo on the right.

The play, Ichi-no-Tani Futaba Gunki, is set in the medieval period of the warring states and the intrigues between Genji warriors and brothers Yoshitsune and Yoritomo. Kunichika illustrates Act III, Scene 3, the most famous scene from the play and and the part most often performed. The scene involves two women, Sagami and Fuji-no-Kata. Fuji-no-kata has come to the camp of the Genji clan in order to avenge the death of her son. She believes a man, Kumagai has killed him and Kumagai is Sagami’s husband. Kumagai is torn in her loyalties between, her friend, Fuji-no-Kata and her husband. The man in the centre of the print is Kumagai’s retainer, Tsutsumi no Gunji. The retainer is holding a notice board, central to the plot, written by the legendary warrior and Genji commander, Yoshitsune. The notice is vital to the complex plot and warns that anyone interfering with a poem he has tied to a cherry tree will suffer the fate of having their finger removed!

A great, early triptych by Kunichika, bold colours and superb richness of decoration - note the eagle on the left hand kimono and the dragon and thunder clouds on the right hand one… each denoting the strong emotions of the characters. As in all kabuki of course, the female characters are all played by men.

Colour, impression and condition are all fine. A copy of the print is in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.