Hirosada, Arashi Rikaku II as Yoshikawa Saemon

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Actor Arashi Rikaku II as Yoshikawa Saemon, 1848. Chuban.

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This great chuban design is a portrait of the great Osaka star of kabuki Arashi Rikaku II (1812 - 1864) playing Yoshikawa Saemon in the drama, Shin Yakata Fukki no Ishizue which premiered in Kyoto in 1781. The play seems to have disappeared from the repertoire and the plot (as is the case in so many Osaka prints) is lost to us. I know of one other copy of this print which is in the Philadelphia museum, hence this is a fairly scarce print by Hirosada.

The reforms of the mid 1840’s were particularly harsh for the theatre and the artistic community in Osaka. The entire culture was forced underground from time to time during these years. Theatres struggled, actors starved and only because many of the print artists were also merchants did the visual arts survive at all. It is suggested that  the change from the oban to the chuban formant of this time was a response to the legality of the practice and that these smaller prints were easier to conceal and to sell. In fact many of these jewel-like prints…. technically far and away the finest of nineteenth century Japan - were commissioned by secretive coterie fan clubs who idolised the actors and playwrights.

These extraordinary prints - of which there are only a few hundred - are some of the best designed and most elegant of nineteenth century portraits. For so many years they have sailed beneath the radar of connoisseurs, but one must surely assume that such exquisite and delicate pieces… so bold in their creation and yet so modest and delicate in their restraint, will be acknowledged for the rare and great art that they are.

Hirosada shows samurai Yoshikawa Saemon holding a lantern (burnished black in the print) above his head. Hirosada was an inventive designer and contorts the gesture to emphasise conflict… reinforced by the violent pattern of thunderclouds that decorate his outer robes. The print is an almost identical mirror of another print by Hirosada of Mimasu Daigoro IV as Teraoka Heiemon.

The lantern appears in the same gesture in a different print of Gado II as Oboshi Yuranosuke.

A fine design; colour is fine, impression and condition are very good.

18 x 25 cm.