Hirosada, Kataoka Gado II as Oboshi Yuranosuke in Chushingura

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864)  Kataoka Gado II as Oboshi Yuranosuke in the drama,  Chushingura. 1849. Deluxe Chuban.

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I confess to some partisanship over these Hirosada prints, but I think that in conception and execution, this is one of the finest Japanese woodblock prints that I have ever held. It is a miniature masterpiece of design, imagination and its effortless use of the virtues of the process in the thoughtful combination of the design elements. The print really comes together in the illumination of the lantern. The graduation of tones, from the pure black solid of the conical device, via several bokashi shaded overlays climaxing in the white of the illuminated snow-capped trees and roofs of Moronao’s mansion, is one of the best and ‘nicest’ uses of woodblock that I can think of. In the hands of Hirosada and the (sadly anonymous) block cutter, the  geometric divisions of tone and ink have come together in perfect harmony. The elegant figure of Gado II as Oboshi Yuranosuke is almost superfluous to the scene. He stands nevertheless, holding the steady gaze of the lantern’s beam, his other hand gripping the sword hilt, the exquisite robes thrown into an umber shade excepting that snow white dogtooth that is like a miracle, as white today as when it was first printed.

The story will be too familiar with print collectors: the noble lord insulted by a scoundrel in the royal precinct who draws his sword and is obliged to take his own life… avenged by 47 ‘ronin’ (leaderless samurai) a year later in utmost secrecy; they too forfeiting their own lives for the sake of honouring their dead master.

This is also an excuse for an actor print; the figure with the lantern is kabuki actor Kataoka Gado II in the role of Oboshi Yuranosuke from a set of three prints in a short series entitled A Collection of Elegant Verse. The verse, lost to most of us since the script can no longer be read, is just visible; a curling text in bronze on the left side of the print. Yuranosuke was the leader of the Ronin and his master’s chief retainer.

The print is in extraordinarily good condition… immaculate in fact. Colour, impression and condition very fine. Extraordinarily, unbacked. The print is illustrated p.99 of Keyes, Hirosada:Osaka Printmaker, California State University, 1984.

Published by Kinkado.

18 x 24 cm.

£280.00