Tadakiyo & Kiyosada, Ichikawa Danjuro IX as Narukami

Torii Kiyosada (1844-1901)/Jusoso Tadakiyo (1847 - 1929) The 18 Great Kabuki Plays (Kabuki Juhachi-ban) Ichikawa Danjuro IX as Narukami Shonin in Narukami, 1896. Oban.

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This is a ravishing example of the late flowering of Meiji design - the last real example of the ukiyo-e style before it lapsed into pastiche and was swamped by the newly fashionable  frenzy for all things western and modern. One gets so much the sense of a country throwing off (or away) its past in the rush to be accepted into the burgeoning international culture, that prints such as this remain startling reminders of the richness of native Japanese art.

Produced in 1896 to celebrate the last great hero of the Danjuro line - a dynasty of actors going back in a line unbroken since 1675 - this print was designed and printed in 1895.
The luxurious print by the father and son artists Jusoso Tadakiyo and Torii Kiyosada, demonstrates the peak of technical achievement in Japanese woodblock printing. The surface is richly embossed and crackles with mica and the rich burnishing of the lacquered blacks. The print is from the series Kabuki Juhachiban, which commemorates the eighteen great kabuki dramas ‘claimed’ by the Danjuro clan since the early nineteenth century and designed to showcase their unique arragato style of forceful acting.

In the top of the print we see the grimacing face of Ichikawa Danjuro IX, in the role of the wicked magician, Narukami Shonin. Narukami lived in an hermitage near a waterfall in which he had imprisoned the dragon god. The land was suffering from drought and so the Emperor sent a beautiful Princess to break the curse and restore the rainfall. When she arrived at the monastery she met Narukami’s servants, Hakuunbo and Kokuunbo, who immediately fell under her spell.

She told them she had come to pray for her late husband and to wash one of his garments since there was no water in the capital. The acolytes and Narukami listen entranced as she goes into intimate and sensuous detail about how she met her husband and how they made love. Narukami feels faint from listening to the story and falls off the veranda of his room. Princess Taema revives him by transferring water from her lips to his. She seduces Narukami when they are alone and he reveals that the dragon god remains imprisoned as long as the sacred rope across the waterfall is intact. When Narukami falls into a drunken stupor, Princess Taema creeps away and cuts the rope. She escapes as thunder and lightning fill the sky and rain pours down. When Narukami revives, his anger at being tricked transforms him into a thunder god and we see him in a final pose wearing a costume covered in orange-red flames and glaring in the direction his seductress has fled.

A stunning print in as new condition, encrusted with sprinkled mica, rich colours and deep embossing. An early impression with very fine and intact blocks. Especially notable is the embossed and mica dusted collar on the princess’s robes and the tremendous drawing of Danjuro. A great print. A less well preserved copy is in the MFA Boston for comparison.

Publisher: Hasegawa Sumi.

24 x 36 cm.