Kunichika, 54 Modern Feelings Matched with Tales of the Genji 49

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) 54 Modern Feelings Matched with Tales of the Genji  # 49: Yadorigi (Ivy), 1884. Oban.

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On the surface, mitate-e are satirical pictures, and yet this extensive ukiyo-e genre is much more complicated than it first seems. The principle is fairly straightforward: take a classical text (in this case the antique novel Genji monogatori) and mirror the event or chapter in a contemporary or anachronistic setting. Unfortunately they represent more puzzle pictures than straightforward satires. Hence not only does the place and time alter in the print but also the entire mis-en-scene and sometimes even the gender of the subject. There is a lot of discussion about the intentions of the genre and whilst some examples are easy to explain - allusions made during periods of extreme censorship, for instance - the bulk of mitate-e seem to be about the artist teasing the viewer to guess the clues as though in a cryptic crossword puzzle.

Tales of the Genji, is a novel written by a Japanese noblewoman in the eleventh century about seduction at the royal palace and the adventures of a handsome prince. In this series Kunichika made prints illustrating the 54 chapters - except for reasons unknown, he made several prints of certain chapters and none of others. Identification is further challenged by the mis-carving of some crests and inconsistency between chapter name and title. The text that Kunichika worked from is in itself a parody of the original classic novel and the title genji can also be punned to read modern times.

Chapter 49 recounts unrequited love and the frustrations of romance within the strict codes of behaviour required at court. There is talk of autumn and of cold winds through the pines but again no obvious connection at all to Kunichika’s view of peasants gathering mushrooms by a lakeside. However, the Genji crest (a series of differing four pronged rectangles) and the open book cartouche leave us no doubt as to the true subject. The vertical black cartouche shows the series title at top and the number of the chapter at the bottom.This series is one of Kunichika’s finest. The prints are delicately realised and have a light, almost sketch like touch.

The print is full size and in good condition. Very fine colour and very fine impression.

Signed Toyoharu Kunichika hitsu with Toshidama seal. Published by Takegawa Seikichi.

24 x 36 cm.