Kunisada, Actors at the 53 Stations of the Tokaido Road - Hashimoto

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Actors at the Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road (Tokaido gojusan tsugi no uchi) Hashimoto, 1852. Oban.

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A great print from a groundbreaking and hugely successful series pairing actor roles with the stations of the Tokaido Road. Print artists during the mid-century were plagued by legislation forbidding the naming and depiction of actors. Artists such as Kunisada who made their living from the theatre looked for increasingly complicated work-rounds… producing a landscape series with figures (unnamed) was one such strategy.

Kunisada was apparently inspired by the actor Onoe Kikugoro III who walked the route, performing ad hoc dramas at different stations along the way. Kunisada used landscape prints from Hiroshige’s Hoeido edition of 1831 as the backdrops, a practice quite common at the time. In front of these borrowed scenes he depicted living and dead actors in scenes from plays that sometimes relate to the landscape or station depicted in the background. The series was an instant success: songs comparing Kunisada to great culinary delicacies and calling him the "Flower of Edo" were composed in his honour. Other series followed, notably one on the same theme set against Kisokaido Road backgrounds.

This print is of the actor Ichikawa Ebizo V as Benkei, the warrior monk and famed companion of the warlord Yoshitsune. Benkei was born in 1155 and was reputedly of enormous strength and vitality; he was raised by monks who were both religious and military. As a young man he positioned himself at one end of Gojo Bridge and disarmed travellers of their swords. On reaching his 999th sword he fought with a young nobleman, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who won the battle of the bridge and thereafter Benkei served as his principal retainer. They fought in the Gempei Wars between the Taira clan and their own Minamoto clan. Benkei is pictured in the usual attire of the warrior monk, with the small black pill box hat and pom-poms on his chest.

A copy of this well known print is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Impression and colour are fine, condition is very good. With deep embossing to the areas of white and embossing and burnishing to the hat.

37 x 25 cm.