Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) 69 Stations of the Kisokaido Road #26: Mochizuki, c 1852. Oban.
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This startling image is widely considered the finest of this great series. In 1852 Kunisada embarked on an actor series, The 52 Stations of the Tokaido Road, with backgrounds derived from Hiroshige’s series of the same title. The work was instantly successful and Kunisada followed it with this series of the inland route from Tokyo (Edo) to Kyoto and a further series on the Tokaido intermediate post stations.
The Kisokaido series follows the same format as the Tokaido set. A three-quarter length actor portrait set in front of the landscape seen at each station. In this print Kunisada illustrates the actor Nakamura Utaemon IV in the role of Otaka Tomono from the play Imayo mozakuki. Kunisada shows Utaemon in a lion dancer's wig, the cartouche in the upper right corner shows the props of the kabuki drama including the disputed scroll that features in the plot.
The red lion wig printed in intricate embossing (gauffrage) dominates the picture; thousands of lines, representing enormous work by the carver, pick out the details of the hair. The actor wears the mei expression indicating a high point of emotion in the script.
This is a very fine print; japanese album backing and tiny binding holes to right edge. Exceptionally fine colours, this is a fine impression of the first edition with the engraver's seal printed in yellow and strong visible woodgrain to the background. No condition issues.
Signed Toyokuni ga. Published by Minatoya Kohei, carved by Hori Takichi.
A copy of this print is in the MFA Boston.