Munehiro, Benkei, from an Unpublished Series of Preparatory Drawings

Hasegawa Munehiro (active 1848 - 1867) Benkei, from An Unpublished Series of Preparatory Drawings, 1850’s. Chuban.

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What a fine treat this is. One of two superb original drawings by this very rare Osaka artist Munehiro. Drawings by ukiyo-e artists are extremely rare. The process of making prints involved the preparatory drawings being either destroyed in the making of the black key-line print… the drawing being pasted to the wood plate and literally carved away, or else simply discarded. Sketches do exist but the likelihood of an artist making a set like this and then the publisher not proceeding to produce colour prints is unusual.

Little is known of Munehiro - he was an Osaka artist, a pupil of Hasegawa Sadanobu (from whom he took his first name) and he produced a small number of single and multi-sheet theatre prints. It is sometimes thought that he was in the circle of Hirosada but this is unproven. Despite his scarcity, he was a gifted artist as we can see from this sensitive portrait from an unknown series.

The drawing here depicts Musashibo Benkei, a 12th century warrior monk. On his back he carries a clutter of  the seven traditional weapons that he has mastered. Benkei, known as a phenomenally strong warrior, is famous in myth as having secured Gojo bridge with the intention of relieving one thousand samurai of their swords. Yoshitsune is his thousandth victim. Yoshitsune, though slight, defeated the giant man. Benkei became his loyal protector and between them they led an armed rebellion against the Taira clan. Yoshitsune was betrayed by his brother and later killed himself and his family at the siege of Koromogawa no tate.

Munehiro in this superbly balanced drawing has used a print of the Gojo Bridge scene by Kunisada  from 1852 as his model, taking nearly every detail of the figure and weapons and compressing the design into the close-cropped chuban format.

This would have made a tremendous, robust full colour print, but no record of the series exists. These drawings are made with a brush and sumi ink onto very thin mulberry paper. They are rare, fragile and usually if they do survive, exist only in torn fragments… a real find.

The condition is outstanding. Some minor creases and small spotting commensurate with age.

25cm x 17cm.