Kuniyoshi, A Comparison of the Ogura 100 Poets 97 - The Blind Man of Hyuga and his Daughter Hitomaru

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets # 97: The Blind Man of Hyuga and his Daughter Hitomaru, 1847. Oban.

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We are showing two prints from the very famous print series A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets, sometimes known as The Hundred Poets Compared. This series of 100 prints is one of the outstanding achievements of woodblock printing in Japan in the nineteenth century. Commissioned by the publisher Ibaya Senzaburo in 1845, the series is the joint work of Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige and Kunisada - the three outstanding woodblock artists of the age. The prints in the series are beautifully composed, drawn and printed and they exhibit a remarkable conformity of style. The edition was one in a long line of anthologies which gathered together the canon of great poetry going back to the eighth century. Whilst there had been previous attempts by artists to anthologise and illustrate the great poems, notably by Hokusai, and Kuniyoshi himself, this was the first major work to be completed.

The poems themselves were gathered together by the scholar Fujiwara no Teika in 1235. It is presumed that these poems were taken from a commission that resulted in the pieces being written out by hand by Teika and glued to the doors of his villa in the shadow of Mount Ogura - hence the name of the series. Some of these fragments still exist in museums in Japan. One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, became the standard textbook for Japanese poetry for centuries to come. The poems themselves are in the Tanka style, that is, five lines of five, seven, five, seven and seven syllables - different to the more familiar Haiku popular today. The prints are mitate - pictures that allude via analogy to the subject of the print. In this way, the publisher challenged the reader to find the meaning of the pictures within the visual clues of the print.

Here is the tragic samurai lord, Kagekiyo after his defeat by the Minamoto clan at the battle of Dan-no-Ura.  Kagekiyo is exiled to the island of Hyuga. His penniless daughter Hitomaru now works as a prostitute in order to earn the money to purchase a good position for her father in the new administration. Kagekiyo is blind and lives as a beggar having put out his eyes so as not to see the victory of his enemy. When his daughter arrives to free him Kagekiyo sends her away, ashamed that she has married beneath her (a story she has told him to cover the greater shame of her prostitution). After she leaves him, the money she has left and the truth of her position emerges and Kagekiyo is so moved by her sacrifice he changes his mind and accepts the supremacy of the Minamoto clan. The island is famous for the fertiliser produced from burning seaweed - the dark clouds visible in the background of the print. The poem by Gon ChunagonTeika reads:

For the one who do esn’t come,
I wait at the bay of Matsuo -
In the evening calm
Where they burn seaweed for salt,
I, too, burn with longing!

These prints are just superb. The design is so very well realised and the complexity of the images and the sentiments so clean and beautifully made that I truly think it to be as a whole the masterpiece achievement  of Utagawa art. This print is no exception, very good colour, condition and impression, remargined left and right.

The complete set and an invaluable guide to the meaning of the poems is in the tremendous book The Hundred Poets Compared: A Print Series by Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige, and Kunisada by Herwig and Mostow, 2007. This print is illustrated in full on page 75.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo.

36cm x 24cm.