Kunisada, Bando Mitsugoro IV as Kintaro

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Bando Mitsugoro IV as Kintaro, 1810‘s. Oban.

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A notably early Kunisada print from the very start of his career. This exceptional piece shows very clearly the influence of his teacher Toyokuni. 

In legend, Kintaro was raised in the wild, some say by his mother, others by an old hag. He was exceptionally strong and willful and became friends with the creatures of the mountains. He is a popular legend in Japanese folklore even today and is traditionally shown with monkeys, with whom he was able to communicate; and with a chopper, with which he performed great feats of strength. As an adult he became a famous and fierce samurai and retainer of Minamoto no Yorimitsu and the boyhood legend has over time become conflated with the real warrior and historical figure Sakata no Kintoki. Here, Kunisada shows the boy Kintaro coloured red as is traditional, with his axe, overcoming a Japanese demon called a tengu. Tengu were believed to be mischievous mountain and forest spirits; originally bird-like, over time they were increasingly given human characteristics.

Of the print itself: this is a fine early Kunisada and unusually for the period, there is stud-like embossing (gauffrage) to the robes. The style owes much to Toyokuni but the mature style of Kunisada is evident in the face and expression of the young Kintaro. The subject, vigour and drawing here are unusual and very fine. There is a comical lightness of touch to the enormous axe and the struggling demon trapped beneath its curved upper edge. Kunisada conveys the humour of the scene and the effortless strength of the boy hero very well here. Bando Mitsugoro IV was from one of the great kabuki acting dynasties and was a child star of the theatre.

This is a fine early impression with gauffrage to the robes, the colour is very fine and the condition also very good. The print has some surface wear commensurate with age. Retains Japanese album backing paper, album fold to far right margin, minor flaws and slightly trimmed to the left edge otherwise very good.

Published by Nishimura Yohachi.

38cm x 25cm