Kunichika, A Scene From The Secrets of Calligraphy

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) A Scene From The Secrets of Calligraphy, 1866. Oban triptych.

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This dramatic - and incidentally brilliantly contrived - design shows three actors in the role of the famous triplets named Umeōmaru, Sakuramaru, and Matsuōmaru from the play, Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami ("Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy").

The play is set in the 9th century, and is based on the life of Heian period court noble and government official Sugawara no Michizane (referred to as Kan Shōjō in the play), who was exiled to Kyushu when he lost favour at court and was falsely accused of conspiring to seize the throne. At the time when the authors were working on the play, a great stir was caused in Osaka by the birth of triplets. It was therefore decided to make use of triplets in the new production and thus it was that Matsuômaru, Umeômaru and Sakuramaru came into being. For the purpose of the story, the triplets are the sons of Sugawara's retainer, Shiratayu. When they were born, Sugawara stood sponsor to all three and named them after the trees he loved best, Matsu (Pine), Ume (Plum) and Sakura (Cherry).

Like most full-length five-act kabuki plays, Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami is very rarely performed in full. Instead, a selection of scenes will be chosen, or a single scene will be combined with scenes from other plays, dance dramas, or other pieces to form a day's program. The most popular, and most frequently performed, scene from this play is Terakoya ("temple school"), the third scene of Act IV. The Kurumabiki (Act III, first scene) scene is considered to be a paragon of the aragoto form, and of the essence of kabuki.

Kunichika pictures a scene where the brothers fail to recognise each other because they are wearing the wicker hats of mendicant priests whist visiting the red light district.

It is the design here that is so compelling - the static pose of the right hand figure the animation of the centre, the wonderful density on the left of the picture and the contrast on the right. The triptych is full size, unbacked and the impression and colour are fine. The print is in overall good condition, some glue remnants on the reverse perhaps and very light soiling.

72 x 35 cm.