Baido, Scene from Oto-no-Miya Asahi no Yoroi

Utagawa Kunimasa IV/Baido (1848-1920) Scene from Ôtô-no-Miya Asahi no Yoroi, c1899. Oban Triptych.

Click here for a full-size image.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

The very last flowering of kabuki and woodblock printing of theatre subjects are here in this bold, attention-grabbing triptych by the confusingly named Utagawa Kunimasa IV, also called Hosai Baido and Kunisada III. It’s an outrageous print; these late Meiji period kabuki prints are very nearly unrivalled as tours-de-force of colour, boldness and glamour anywhere in the woodblock world.

What we see here are three kabuki actors at the ends of their careers, performing in a play that looks back to the grand days of warring states and samurai heroes of the fourteenth century. The play is a version of  Oto-no-Miya Asahi no Yoroi ("Oto-no-Miya and the Armor of the Rising Sun". For a full explanation of the plot and the final scene, I urge you to visit the peerless kabuki21; but suffice it to say that it is one of many plays showing the consequences of family loyalties being pitted against filial or national (clan) duty. A good example of this is the play Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami with its gruesome denouement of a parent revealing the head of his child in a hat box and showing no emotion. In this print, the common plot of substituting your own child or (in this case) grandchild to preserve the life of a noble prince is played out in the final scene here.

Here we see: centre; Fukusuke Nakamura as Hayasaki, right; Onoe Kikugoro as Yorikazu and Ichikawa Danjuro as Tarozaemon. The dynamic design, the colour and pattern and boldness are breathtaking. It takes a while to get one’s eye in… abandon the dry artiness of the effortless archaic prints of the eighteenth century and embrace the modernity of these elusive images. For these prints and the late prints of Kunichika usher in the twentieth century… there is nothing like them in fact before or since.

Colour, impression and condition are all fine, unbacked. Very slight migration of the red ink, as is common. Some trimming to the margins.

72 x 35 cm.