Kunisada, Ichikawa Kodanji IV as Oniazami Seikichi

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Ichikawa Kodanji IV as Oniazami Seikichi from the Play Kosode Soga Azami no Ironui, 1864. Oban.

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The character of Seikichi is one of the all-time bad guys of kabuki. The play, Kosode Soga Azami no Ironui, is about a doomed love affair between a priest (Seishin, who later changes his name to Seikichi) and a young girl. They are banished and Seikichi becomes a bandit whilst his lover leaves to become a nun. Later she is captured by bandits and rescued by Seikichi who has himself descended into a life of crime and banditry. Reunited, they go on a crime spree which ends in remorse and a double duicide. Seikichi is often pictured, as here, with his face partially covered by a spotted cloth.

The crime which seals his fate, perhaps the scene pictured here, is when considering a further attempt at suicide, Seikichi is interrupted by the page boy Motome carrying fifty gold pieces. The boy has an attack of cramp and falls to the ground in pain. At first Seikichi tries to help by massaging his chest, but when he discovers the packet of money, his nature gradually changes from that of a weak but harmless young man into that of a far more sinister character. With nothing left to lose, Seikichi resolves to become a thief. After much soul-searching, he murders the boy and steals the money.

A very good actor print by Kunisada, in the last years of his life, it has all of the characteristic confidence of an artist at the height of his power. The print is in superb condition and the colour and impression are also fine. Kunisada shows the murder against an ominous flat background of solid grey. The monochrome sets the palette for the whole scene - one only relieved by splashes of red that indicate the violence of the event.

A copy of this print is in the Museum of Fine  Arts in Boston.

36cm x 25cm.