Kunisada, Snow at Yoshiwara - Urazato

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Snow at Yoshiwara: Urazato, c. 1857. Kakemono-e.

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What an astonishing piece this is. Kunisada imbues the tragic scene of the lovers Urazato and Tokijiro with great drama and a wonderful and economic use of his later restrained palette. He takes full advantage of the vertical diptych format for this print, emphasising the height and distance between the two figures with the straight, negative lines of the building, the great trunk of the pine to which Tokijiro clings and the lonely caryatid  figure of the bound Urazato. We are compelled to follow Tokojiro’s gaze and contemplate his miserable lover alone in the freezing snow. The modernity, the supreme confidence of the design and the deft use of tone make this a very compelling example of Kunisada’s work at its best.

The story of Urazato was popular with kabuki audiences in the mid nineteenth century. The plot tells of the doomed love affair between the prostitute Urazato and her samurai lover who cannot afford to buy her out of service. They have a child together and plan to escape; as punishment Urazato is bound with rope and put out in the snow. She is fed water (from the butt visible in the lower right of the bottom panel) by her young daughter whilst her lover waits in a pine tree above. He rescues her but they have nowhere to go and they commit a joint suicide that same night.

Kunisada did various versions of the story including a near identical diptych in landscape format, although this design is by far the most successful. This is a very fine print, the dark night sky is heavily dusted with mica and overall the impression and the colour are very fine. There is some wear to the lower panel and minor marks and flaws, the two panels are not attached. Generally the condition is good. Full size.