Kunisada, 36 Views of the Eastern Capital - Hachiman

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Thirty-six Views of the Eastern Capital: Hachiman, 1863. Oban.

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One of a very good series from the last few years of Kunisada’s long and productive career. This print is a good example of the genre of prints that placed well known actors in role (sometimes real sometimes imagined) in front of a view of town or landscape. These type of prints came about because of legal restrictions on so called ‘decadent’ prints… worthy subjects such as landscape were approved and hence artists like Kunisada placed actors in front of series devoted to landscape (most famously the Tokaido Road) as a form of deception. After the reforms were relaxed the game of hide and seek with the censor remained popular, and the mix of views and kabuki theatre persisted.

This lovely print shows a view of Edo (later Tokyo), and famous gate known as the Tomioka Yawata shrine, one of Tokyo’s greatest shinto shrines dedicated to Hachiman a divinity of archery and war.  The actor here is Ichimura Uzaemon XIII in the role of Omatsuri Sashichi. The play of the same name begins at the Hachiman shrine where two courtesans are watching the Fukagawa Matsuri festival. Sashichi is a fireman seen laying a lions head model on the shrine. The play builds a complex plot of mistakes and deceptions common among townsfolk; Saishichi is a fireman… famously violent and reckless, the woman he falls in love with is a prostitute and they are surrounded by deceivers and plotters.

Inevitably the tragic final scene is Saishichi stabbing  his lover, Koito, to death with a kitchen knife... such was the lot of the poor in Edo Japan. Plays like these were wildly popular among Edo kabuki audiences because the stories they wove were often drawn from life or at the very least reflected the poverty and struggles of ordinary Edoists.

This is a clever print that neatly ties the actor to the scene. It is beautifully drawn and composed and the colour and tonality convince us of the horror to come - as does the tip of the held blade seen on the left margin. Colour, impression and condition are all fine and the print is unbacked. "Cheesecloth" embossing to the cartouche and other parts. The print is entertainingly signed with the boastful: nanajukyu sai Toyokuni hitsu ("from the brush of Toyokuni, 79 years old").

Published by: Omiya Kyujiro.

24 x 35.5 cm.