Kunisada, Iroha Diary of the Stations of the Eastern Road

Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) Iroha Diary of the Stations of the Eastern Road, 1861. Oban.

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A mysterious print, very rare indeed and from a series - perhaps intended to be 52 prints - of seemingly only two or three known images. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has two prints, and the Fine Arts Museum Chicago has one. The title refers I think both to the Tokaido Road heading East and to a play of the same name as the series, Tokaido Iroha Nikki,

The Tokaido Road was one of the few long distance roads across Edo Japan. It was the artery between the capital in Edo and the Imperial capital in Kyoto. The route was interrupted by post-stations, inns essentially, every one day’s march. There around fifty-two of these stop-overs and the set were made famous in 1832 by Hiroshige’s travel series that illustrated each one. Later, in the early mid-century, as the administration crumbled, more decadent prints of actors and theatres were banned and hence actor artists such as Kunisada took to picturing travel scenes but with increasingly dominant mitate: hidden subjects that were usually theatre portraits. By the time we get close to the cultural revolution of the early 1860’s, the landscape, as here, has entirely disappeared and we are left with a theatre subject only and the clue... a game really, connecting the actor and the role to the place. The play of the title involves the mythical story of the cat ghost. There are a number of stories of cat witches, some along the Tokaido; the play here refers to an enchanted cat stone who is in reality the beauty Tatsuyo. A great image of the play by Kunisada and some useful background is found here, at the Lyon Collection.

Full-size; unbacked; colour, condition and impression are all fine.

Published by Hori Takichi.

36 x 25 cm.