Munehiro, Gonpachi, from an Unpublished Series of Preparatory Drawings

Hasegawa Munehiro (active 1848 - 1867) Gonpachi, from an Unpublished Series of Preparatory Drawings, 1850’s. Chuban.

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A superb original drawing 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 may depict the tragic antihero, Gonpachi. In the second half of the seventeenth century, Shirai Gompachi, a skilful swordsman of Inabi, killed one of his clansmen in a quarrel and fled to Edo. On his way he met a girl, Komurasaki, who told him that she was held captive by robbers, and that he, too, would be caught by them unless he hurried away. Gompachi stopped, attacked the robbers, and rescued the girl whom he took to her parents in Mikawa. He then returned to the Edo road, met with another party of robbers, who would have despatched him but for the timely arrival of a man named Chobei, who rescued him and entertained him in Edo. In the Yoshiwara, Gompachi heard of a new girl, just arrived from the country, and who was called Young Purple. She was no other than Komurasaki, whose people had met with misfortune, and who had sold herself to pay their debts. Gompachi, deeply in love, decided to redeem her, and as he had no money himself, he began a life of crime, killing and robbing people to get enough money wherewith to buy her back. He was caught and beheaded, Chobei buried his body at Ekko-in, and Komurasaki came a few days later to kill herself on his grave. Their common tomb is called the grave of the Shiyoku, and the souls of the two are embodied in the legendary bird Hiyokudori.

Munehiro uses the standard depictions of Gonpachi to great effect. The figure is a knot of tightened muscle, clashing designs and harsh, conflicted angles. The idea of the drawing is to show the conflict, regret and turmoil of the character… this is an actor portrait - so the actor has his face and eyes screwed into the stage mei pose of rage.

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.