Kuniyoshi, A Comparison of the Ogura 100 Poets, 79 - Ume Yoshibei and Chokichi

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred: Ume Yoshibei and Chokichi # 79, 1847. Oban.

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A full size and extremely well preserved example from this exquisite collaborative series, A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets, sometimes known as the Hundred Poets Compared. This series of 100 prints is one of the outstanding achievements of woodblock printing in Japan in the nineteenth century. Commissioned by the publisher Ibaya Senzaburo in 1845, the series is the joint work of Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige and Kunisada - the three outstanding woodblock artists of the age. The prints in the series are beautifully composed, drawn and printed and they exhibit a remarkable conformity of style. The edition was one in a long line of anthologies which gathered together the canon of great poetry going back to the eighth century. Whilst there had been previous attempts by artists to anthologise and illustrate the great poems, notably by Hokusai, and Kuniyoshi himself, this was the first major work to be completed.

The poems themselves were gathered together by the scholar Fujiwara no Teika in 1235. It is presumed that these poems were taken from a commission that resulted in the pieces being written out by hand by Teika and glued to the doors of his villa in the shadow of Mount Ogura - hence the name of the series. The prints are mitate - pictures that allude via analogy to the subject of the print. In this way, the publisher challenged the reader to find the meaning of the pictures within the visual clues of the print.

The play Suda no Haru Geisha Katagi, from which the print and the story are derived is one of twisting complexity. It involves the efforts of Yoshibei - standing in the distinctive black and yellow bird kimono - retrieving a family heirloom; several other otokodate become involved, each with their own agenda of greed and jealousy. Yoshibei’s rival, Chokichi lies wounded in the centre. Yoshibei, a kind of Robin Hood character is symbolised in his dress with crows… signs of ill-omen and white herons, symbols of innocence. Note the dim waning moon in the background and how it relates to the poem written by Sakyo no Akisuke:

From between the breaks
in the clouds that trail
on the autumn wind
leaks through the moon-
light’s clear brightness!

A really outstanding example from this series, colour and impression are fine, condition is very good, two small worm tracks professionally restored, little or no yellowing and untrimmed full size margins.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo.

37.5 x 25 cm.