Kunisada, 18 Plays by the Ichikawa Clan No 11 - The Medicine Peddler

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) The Eighteen Plays by the Ichikawa Clan. No 11: The Medicine Peddler (Uiro Uri), 1852. Oban.

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This is a delightful and beautiful Kunisada from a highly regarded 1852 series, Juhachiban no Uchi. The series is part of a masterful public relations exercise by the Danjuro clan to put themselves at the heart of the kabuki world. Danjuro VII commenced this coup-de-theatre in 1832 and by 1840 he had established a canon of eighteen plays that the line of actors excelled in, not because they were fine plays but because they showed the particular ‘bravura’ style of acting which the Danjuros performed. In 1852, Kunisada commemorated all eighteen performances in one series.

This  print is number eleven from the series and shows the short dramatic monologue that made a sensational success of Danjuro II in 1718. This three minute monologue was a rapid fire tongue twister of a piece filled with puns, alliterations and repetitive, rolling vowels. Children and adults memorised the piece and the craze for Uiro Uri swept through Osaka, Edo and the whole Kamigata area. Essentially this short performance is a stand alone comic turn, but Danjuro wove it into one of the great revenge plays of kabuki: The Revenge of the Soga Brothers; using it as a pretext to allow Soga Goro to encounter his enemy in disguise.

In this woodblock print we see Danjuro disguised as a quack vendor of the Chinese cure-all uiro. He carries his portable stall on his back and holds a jar of the wonderful medicine in his left hand. This is a print of rare delicacy, the wood grain in the background is especially perfect, every mark and flake is picked out in the beige and grey background. The colours of the print are especially clear and and bright and the whole print has an unusual lightness of touch and delicacy of hue. The drawing, the impression, the quality of the edition, the colours and the condition are all exceptional. There are two small wormholes.

Full size with left margin intact.

Signed Toyokuni ga. Published by Ebisuya Shoshichi