Kuniyoshi, Scene from Konoshita Soga Megumi no Masagoji

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Scene from the Kabuki Play Konoshita Soga Megumi no Masagoji, 1851. Oban.

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The play Konoshita Soga Megumi no Masagoji has the unappealing English title of "Goemon the Pirate Boiled Alive". This fine and quite rare Kuniyoshi triptych is relatively unusual. The giants of the Japanese print scene in the nineteenth century kept themselves apart (whether by chance or intention, who knows) when it came to genres and subject matter. Hiroshige was  primarily a landscape artist, Kunisada a theatre artist and Kuniyoshi an artist of heroes, and women. Kuniyoshi made many theatre prints though, even if this was not his primary interest. This triptych shows the kabuki actor Ichikawa Kodanji IV playing the arch villain Ishikawa Goemon. Goemon is usually pictured in a fright wig and wielding weapons, but here he is in disguise, coming across his mother (in the centre panel) with his stepfather, Jizaemon.

Goemon was a kind of Robin Hood type character of Japanese kabuki, and like Robin Hood, loosely based on a real historic character. Goemon was a prolific thief who attempted an assassination on Mashiba Hideyoshi. In the numerous kabuki plays about him, Goemon has taken up residence in the vermillion temple of Nanzenji, but in reality Goemon was captured and sentenced to be boiled in oil with his young son, in an iron kettle still called goemonburo (Goemon Bath), the subject also of many grim ukiyo-e.

An unusual theatre triptych, three sheets unbacked. Some small worm holes and slight loss to the right edge of the left-hand sheet, otherwise in very good condition, some scuffing and surface wear.  Colour and impression are fine.

Published by Sano-ya Kihei.

77 x 37 cm.

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£260.00