Ashiyuki, Ichikawa Ibijuro I as Tobei and Nakamura Utaemon III as Hyosuke

Gigado Ashiyuki (active 1813 - 1833) Ichikawa Ebijuro I as Tobei and Nakamura Utaemon III as Hyosuke, 1830. Oban diptych.

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Ashiyuki is a fine Osaka print artist whose work predates the harsh censorship laws of the Tempo Reforms of the 1840’s; hence his work is characterised by larger oban sheets than the smaller discreet chuban size that was introduced as a defence against charges of decadence in the following decade. The style of his designs like his contemporaries, is vigorous and brusque. The stylistic change occasioned by the 1842 reforms led  to a geometric approach to drawing whereby the portraits of say, Hirosada take on the clean, sparse lines and rich flat colour of later Osaka printmaking. Here in this print we typically see a looser approach to perspective for example. The buildings in the background cluster together like cubist designs. The staircase on the right sheet is clearly a drawn flat on the stage props and not part of the in-between world created by later Edo artists whereby the stage and the lived world drift into each other in ukiyo-e renderings. This is a picture of a performance!

The play Gokusaishiki Musume Ogi ("The Brilliant Colours of a Young Girl's Fan) was based on a real-life incident in 1661 involving a young man executed after stealing money and running away with his boss’s daughter. A deaf samurai, Tobei, is desperate to raise money to ransom a girl from servitude, because she wants to marry a poor samurai, Seijuro. One night, during a fierce storm, Tobei comes to the aid of a seriously ill, blind man, Hyosuke. Noticing a purse under Hyosuke's clothes, he asks for money, but is refused. They fight until Tobei accidentally wounds Hyosuke.  Tobei finishes off Hyosuke and takes the purse, but is also shocked to discover that Hyosuke was his half-brother carrying a letter from their mother Oko asking Hyosuke to give the money to Tôbei in the first place. Further complications ensue, in an almost comic series of misunderstandings due to the various character’s disabilities.

Ashiyuki clearly pictures the moment when Hyosuke is struggling to hold onto the purse of money (left sheet) and Tobei is raising his sword to strike him down. Ashiyuki prints are scarce, this print is unusually complete. It is almost identical in condition to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston example, the only other complete set that I know of. Colour is very good, with little fading to the yellow. The all important rain is deeply embossed and printed with long, still-sparkling silver metallic streaks. The print has Japanese album backing, the surface has some wear but overall is very good for the age.

50 x 37 cm.