Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), Famous Restaurants of the Eastern Capital: Daishichinokashi Restaurant - Onoe Kikugorô III as Kinugawa Yoemon, 1852. Oban.
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This is a complicated print in some ways but it represents Onoe Kikugoro III in the role of Kinugawa Yoemon. The plot of the play, Okuni Gozen Keshô no Sugatami, is tremendously complicated, centring around feuding families and, inevitably, a lost heirloom of great value that can restore honour and prosperity to its owners… . In this case, the valuable heirloom is a scroll, painted by the master painter Tosa Mitsutaka. In Act III, Scene 2, the action culminates on the banks of the Kizugawa River. One of the protagonists leaps into the river having concealed the scroll about his person. The scroll seems to jump out from his bosom, and strangely enough, the carp depicted on it slips out and begins swimming in the river.
There was a legend that this great picture painted by the great master Tosa Mitsutaka would indeed come to life under such circumstances is realised and Yoemon, who used to be Mitsutaka's protégé, jumps into the river to catch the fish. He manages to hold it down and thrusts his sword into its eyes thereby forcing it to return to the scroll. In the meantime the wife of the Shôgun arrives accompanied by Toyowaka, the scroll’s owner’s heir. In recognition of Yoemon's daring deed, Yoemon is nominated as the official chief painter of Ginkakuji Temple and guaranteed future prosperity.
The kabuki scene shown here is a koitsukami ("carp grappling scene"), which involved gigantic tanks of real water and combat between the actor and the spirit of a giant carp - the fish portrayed via an elaborate mechanical prop. The Onoe lineage of actors were famous for their skills in these water play drama (mizu kiyogen).
The print itself would have been commissioned by a publisher who would in turn have sought sponsorship from Edo restaurants…. in this case, The Daishichinokashi Restaurant. Similar projects occur today in fact, with contemporary artists designing plates and posters for shops and museum outlets. The inset picture of the river and the restaurant itself was carried out by Hiroshige… in this print one gets two great Edo artists for the price of one!
Charlotte van Rappard-Boon writes:
A series designed by Kunisada and Hiroshige for the publisher Fujiokaya Keijiro, who gives his address on the prints as Tori Aburacho. The prints have a landscape, probably near the restaurants, and a still-life above. Below an actor in a stage role. The title is in a black cartouche in the upper-right-hand corner. The roles are difficult to identify. The series was designed 1852-1853. Suzuki, 1971, p193 mentions 49 prints. (van Rappard-Boon, Hiroshige and the Utagawa school, Amsterdam, 1984. p 98f).
A really very fine print from an important collaborative series and really the best design in that series. The whole set is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Colour and impression are very good. There is blind embossing to the headscarf and the robes. Condition is good overall. Note the enormous eye of the fish in the bottom right hand corner, and the body that curls across the print, the tail interrupting the Hiroshige landscape behind.
Published by Fujiokaya Keijiro
36 x 25 cm.