Kunisada II, Eight Dog Heroes (Satomi Hakkenden) Iwai Hanshiro VI as Rikijiro’s Wife Hikite

Kunisada II (Toyokuni IV) 1823 - 1880, Eight Dog Heroes (Satomi Hakkenden) Iwai Hanshiro VI as Rikijiro’s Wife Hikite, 1852. Oban.

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Kunisada II’s Stories of Satomi Hakkenden, also known as the Eight Dog Heroes is one of the really great woodblock print series of mid-nineteenth century Japan. The artist is partly (and unfairly) obscured behind the towering shadow of his illustrious teacher and father in law, Kunisada I (Toyokuni III). Kunisada II worked in the style of his master, but never achieved the same level of success. His prints include over 40 series, mostly of actors, and this extensive series is by far his greatest achievement. The prints in this series were all produced to the best ‘deluxe’ standard with brilliant, expensive pigment, careful bokashi shading and extensive mica, lacquer and embossing.

The story was originally a novel which took nearly thirty years to complete, between 1814 and 1842, and appeared at regular intervals in 106 volumes… for Edoists it would have been similar to a long running Netflix season such as Game of Thrones. It was quickly turned into a popular kabuki play. The complex plot features 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. Each of the offspring carries the Japanese word for "dog" in his name. The plot is too complex to summarise, but there are numerous websites devoted to the story both as a novel, a kabuki drama and latterly as a video game and manga cartoon.

The character of Hikite, not to say her husband Rikijiro  seem to have disappeared from the story. At the time of writing, there is no obvious record although prints of both of them feature in this series. It is a great image, Hikite holds aloft a flaming torch against a pitch black sky, the pigment on the brand is nicely oxidised, the drawing fine and bold.

Colour is good and there is embossing on her sleeves. The print is unbacked and full size with margins. There is a mark to the face of the actor.

Publisher: Tsutaya Kichizô (Kôeidô).

38 x 26 cm.