Kunisada, Nakamura Shikan as Fuwa Banzaemon

Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) Nakamura Shikan as Fuwa Banzaemon in Ukiyozuka Hiyoku no Inazuma, 1860/61. Oban triptych.

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This very beautifully made triptych by Kunisada shows the actor as all round bad guy: Nakamura Shikan as Fuwa Banzaemon on the right. His rival, Nagoya Sanza, is on the left and his lover Iwahashi. Their story is a means to further explore the famed life of Shirai Gonpachi, a masterless samurai forced to kill a man and then to escape to Edo. Kabuki21 summarises the whole as follows:

…it also features the story of Nagoya Sanza, a flashy hero of the late 16th century who was the model of masculine beauty in the earliest days of Kabuki. The play also shows his lover Iwahashi, a lady-in-waiting in a samurai household who becomes a courtesan to be with her love and the darkly attractive Fuwa Banzaemon who is Sanza’s enemy because he killed Sanza’s father. The play shows the rivalries and fights within the samurai household that result in all these characters being thrown into the nightlife of Edo’s pleasure quarters, then with exaggeration and grotesque humour shows Nagoya Sanza’s life as a masterless samurai. Finally, with swaggering movements and stately spectacle, shows the confrontation of the two men in the middle of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters with the cherry trees in full bloom.

This is a classic of mid century kabuki triptychs, beautiful and wholly underrated. Note the floor sized andon lantern on the left-hand sheet, the careful division of the the three sheets that give for each character its own theatre… each figure has its own backdrop: the cherry blossoms and songbird behind Iwahashi; the darkly grey screen and ominous cave of material behind Banzaemon on the right; and the lighter screens behind the figure on the left. Of course the arrangement allowed for the piece to act as a whole and for the individual sheets to be sold separately.

The sheets are unbacked, and in very good condition with the usual surface marks. Colour and impression are fine. A very good set.

74 x 35 cm.