Hirosada, Sawamura Kito II as Young Sister Koishi

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Sawamura Kitō II as Young Sister Koishi, 1852. Deluxe Chuban.

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We are showing several prints from the great Osaka artist Konishi Hirosada. These smaller format chuban prints are minor miracles of the art of woodblock printing. Nothing else exists like them in terms of the luxurious handling of materials, the perfection of technique and the brilliance of design. In Osaka, where these prints were made, a combination of merchant wealth, strictly enforced moral law and a flourishing but persecuted kabuki theatre scene, combined to create a decade or so of outstanding art before the coteries of enthusiasts and the cultural scene itself changed and moved on. The relics of this perfect moment are comparatively  rare, and they are still not widely known outside of ukiyo-e enthusiasts.

This print is typical of the high end of this type of print. The short print runs and specialist, wealthy collectors meant that the prints were always very fresh with little block wear. The colours here are rich and dense, often as a result of over-printing. Details on the robe of Koishi are picked out in metallic ink, and there is deep, rich gold embossing to the collar of her kimono. These jewel like objects were highly prized and designed to be passed around by enthusiasts, the reflective and burnished inks held up to the light.

Of course there is a tremendously close relationship between the kabuki theatre and the woodblock printing scene. The artists were the visualisers of the great and complex narratives of the stage. The plays themselves were in a way expressive of the people… their desires, their ambitions, their resentments. So in the case of this print, here the actor, Sawamura Kitō II is pictured playing a minor role in the lost play Totomigata Koi no Shiranami. Koishi appears to be the younger sister (at least in this version of the story) of the infamous yet strangely chivalrous bandit, Nippondaemon. We can see the two together in a print at the Honolulu Museum also by Hirosada and of the same actor from the same performance and again here at the Toshidama Gallery with, I suspect, Sawamura Kitō II as Young Sister Koishi on the left.

There are numerous plays and stories of the time derived from the character of Nippon Daemon. Daemon was one of the great bandit leaders of Japanese folklore and kabuki theatre. The original play Benten kozo revolves around a band of five thieves, based on real thieves and criminals of Edo period Osaka: Karigane Bunshichi, An no Heibei, Gokuin Sen'emon, Kaminari Shokuro and Hotei Ichiemon. The name of Nippon Daemon, the leader of the band, is taken from that of Nippon Saemon, who was captured and executed in 1747.

The print is an outstanding example of Osaka printmaking. Colour, impression and condition are all fine. Burnishing, embossing and metallic inks. Unbacked with margins.

18 x 23.5 cm.