Chikanobu, Tango (Boy's Festival) at the Chiyoda Palace

Toyohara Chikanobu (1838 - 1912) Tango (Boy's Festival) at the Chiyoda Palace, 1895. Oban triptych.

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This really terrific print is from the well known Chikanobu series which details the daily life of the inner courtyard of the Chiyoda Palace in Tokyo before the changes of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. It is a strangely haunting series of prints - providing detailed depictions of life in and around Edo Castle before the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

In the 1894/1895 Chiyoda Inner Palace set, Chikanobu documented various annual ceremonies in the women’s quarters,  especially  seasonal festivals, conducted in the palace gardens.  The scenes give an overall impression of what the shogun’s private quarters might have looked like in the mid-19th century.  But it is hopelessly romantic of course and has a strange ethereal and other worldly feel to it. The women are portrayed as ideal feminine figures, showing little emotion or excitement.  No one seems happy or sad, ebullient or upset.  In fact, these imaginary depictions suggest a realm of tranquil harmony, without conflict or illness. 

Only two old women are shown, and most of the more than 150 featured figures are youthful looking, appearing to be in their 20’s or early 30’s and no babies or pregnant women are evident.  There is a sense of tension among the women, though, as ritual gestures and prescribed ceremonies are carried out with great seriousness.  Although some settings are animated by secondary figures (servants, actors, parade participants, etc.) or pet animals, overall the quiet rhythm of life in the Chiyoda Inner Palace is predominant and well described.  (With thanks to The Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints.)

In this stunningly sophisticated and daring composition, Chikanobu portrays one of the many festivals… the boy’s day or Tango Festival. The time of year (early spring) is identified by the blossom trees, the ladies of the court are just visible in the covered palace in the distance, seen as if through a mist or in a dream. In the centre sheet is the depiction of a boy holding a bird of prey and  a Lady-in-Waiting next to him in strikingly bright colours. An attendant is marshalling a troupe of kabuki actors, seen squeezed into the bottom corner of the left hand sheet. Of course, how clever is the composition… the main attraction is literally squeezed into the corner of the composition!  Here we see the great male heroes of kabuki and of legend… Benkei is seen carrying the enormous temple bell, Soga Goro in his striking red stage make-up; and the ideal samurai child… the wild boy Kintaro all red skin and wild hair. They process behind a striped awning called a Bakufu, a memory of the earliest military encampments where Yoshitsune formed the first mobile government, the Bakufu Administration.

I think this is one of the best of this series, it’s a truly great and mysterious piece of work and marvellously evocative. The colour, impression and (crucially for such a delicate piece), the condition are all fine.

72 x 35.5 cm.