Kuniyoshi, Comparison With The Cloudy Chapters of The Genji - Usugumo

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Ukiyo-e Comparison With The Cloudy Chapters of The Genji: #19 Usugumo, 1845. Oban.

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A terrific print from a well known series which depicts scenes from an ancient Japanese novel The Tales of Genji. Arguably the world’s first ever true novel, it was written in the eleventh century by Lady Murasaki and tells the story of a youthful Prince (Genji) and his amorous adventures. The series was a response to the Tenpo reforms of 1842, banning the depiction of beautiful women and kabuki actors. It was still possible to produce historical and literary works although this was not such a lucrative market for the publisher. This series nominally illustrates the great historic novel but is in reality a guise for yet more actor prints.

The scene depicted is from the kabuki play Kan ha shu tsunagiuma performed at the Ichimura theatre in 1844. Contemporary audiences would have been well aware of the real subject of this and the other fifty nine prints in the series. The print shows Taira Yoshikado and Uto Yasakuto, famous warriors of the 10th century, conspiring revenge on the death of Yoshikado’s father. The spirit of Yoshikada’s dead sister Kocho is represented by the mystical tsuchigumo, a creature that appears in an identical drawing by Kunichika from some decades later. Ukiyo-e artists usually depict tsuchigumo with two eyes rather than eight, something that continues in movies, notably the giant spider Kumonga in Son of Godzilla.

The picture uses a pun on the word gumo meaning both 'cloud' and 'spider' in Japanese. The title appears in the middle of the scroll, and the series title is written on the scroll cover to the right. The geometric Genji crest (mon) appears on the background of the scroll in light colours surrounded by a poem. A description of the scene by Hanagassa Karitsu appears on the lower right portion of the print.

Good impression, colour slightly faded, trimmed to the image; overall good condition.

Signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga with red Kiri  seal. Published by Iseya Ichibei.

A copy of this print is in the British Museum London.