Kunisada II, Eight Dog Heroes (Satomi Hakkenden) Onoe Kikugoro III as Inuyama Dôsetsu Tadatomo

Kunisada II (Toyokuni IV) 1823 - 1880, Eight Dog Heroes (Satomi Hakkenden) Onoe Kikugorô III as Inuzuka, 1852. Oban.

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This stunning kabuki portrait is by the lesser known Kunisada II. The print is from his finest series: Hakkenden inu no soshi no uchi ("Book of The Eight Dog Heroes"). Originally a novel which took thirty years to complete, the story was quickly turned into a popular kabuki play. The complex plot narrates the story of the eight offspring of a supernatural marriage between a princess and her father’s dog. Shamed at the birth of her children, she kills herself and the eight beads of her rosary, each representing a Buddhist virtue, become crystal orbs and disperse, the children being reborn to normal mothers sixteen years later. The plot twists and turns as the eight brothers become acquainted as adults.

Kunisada II depicts Inuyama Dôsetsu Tadatomo, the leader of the heroes (all of whom have the character inu, or "dog" in their surname), and gifted with the ability to magically manipulate fire and water . The first act of the play shows the sometimes comical scenes of the brothers, none of who know each other, becoming acquainted and then pledging to revive the fortunes of their family, the Satomi. The second act which was wildly popular with audiences involves the brothers assembling at an inn and defeating a witch in the form of a gigantic flying cat. The kabuki drama utilised all of the latest special effects to bring to life the aerial combat between the brothers and the transformed witch.

Kunisada II is a slightly tragic figure. He married Kunisada I’s daughter and became the head of the Utagawa School after his father in law’s death. This series is really his best work and has always been solidly collectible, standing comparison to the best of Kunisada’s theatre prints. All of the prints have the striking multi-coloured cartouche containing the series title. Kunisada II pictures the great actor Onoe Kikugorô III at night; the modelling of the shadows and the handling of light and shade is extremely good.

This is a brilliant and striking theatre print from the height of the success of the Utagawa School. Colour and impression are excellent with fine shomenzuri burnishing to the black material, condition is very good overall. Minor creasing, some surface wear. A copy of this print is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Publisher: Tsutaya Kichizo.

38 x 26 cm.