Hirosada, Nakamura Tomijuro II as the Spirit of a Willow Tree

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Nakamura Tomijuro II as the Spirit of a Willow Tree, 1852. Chuban.

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A quite beautiful and delicate print by the Osaka artist Hirosada. This very fine chuban print which is in outstanding condition shows the kabuki actor, Nakamura Tomijuro II as  Oryu, the spirit of a willow tree. The story comes from the play Gion Nyogo Kokonoe Nishikia, a five act drama about the legend of the willow tree that forms the long ridgepole of the hall of a temple in Kyoto from 1760.

During an imperial hunt, a falcon gets caught in the upper branches of a giant willow tree. They are about to cut down the tree to recover the falcon when a man named Heitaro frees the falcon, rescuing both the bird and the tree. Some years later, Heitaro is living as a hunter together with his mother, his wife Oryu and their young son Midorimaru. Meanwhile, in the imperial palace, the retired emperor is suffering great headaches and a fortune teller has revealed that the roots of a willow tree are twisting around the skull of his former incarnation and says that the willow tree should be cut down and used to build a temple. As Heitaro and his family hear the sounds of the tree being cut down, Oryu collapses in agony. In fact, she is the spirit of the willow tree that has taken human form and become Heitaro’s wife in gratitude for his saving the tree. She says farewell to her husband and son and disappears. As workers are pulling along the cut-down tree, suddenly it stops moving. Heitaro and his son appear and the tree does not move again until little Midorimaru sings a song. At the sound of his tearful voice, the tree miraculously moves by itself. Kunisada made a print of Nakamura Tomijuro II in this role in 1854.

This is a very beautifully realised design, showing the poignancy of the story in how the character of Oryu is portrayed. The shading and printing here are masterful, the colour and condition are fine. The print is with margins and unbacked. Another example of this rare print is in the Kobe City Museum, Japan.

17.5 x 24.5 cm.