Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Thirty Six Good and Evil Beauties (Zen-aku Sanju-roku Bijin): Agemaki of Miuraya, 1873. Oban.
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The Thirty-six Good and Evil Beauties is probably Kunichika’s finest large series and certainly the best bijin series of his career. The quality of the printing is outstanding, the drawing is fluid and original and the designs bristle with invention and startling use of colour and pattern. Each print from the series takes a famous woman of history and portrays her beneath a cartouche explaining her story. Some of these characters are warlike, some evil and vain and some are pious or devoted. What is interesting historically is how Kunichika presents women as individuals and not archetypes. This is at variance to the traditional bijin portraits of pliable or available females and chimes with Yoshitoshi’s series on similar themes such as Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners from 1888.
In this print, Kunichika illustrates the well known courtesan Agamaki, lover of Sukeroku and an old samurai called Ikyu. Sukeroku is in fact Soga Goro the well known hero of the epic Soga monagatori in disguise. He is trying to discover the identity of his father’s assassin and suspects the old man of possessing his father’s sword. The play shows the verbal sparring between the two male leads as Sukeroku attempts to get the samurai to draw his weapon. Agemaki has to decide between the reckless young man or the certainty of her future with the aged warrior.
Kunichika pictures Agemaki in the traditional and lavish robes of the red light. Her hair is laden with fashionable hair pins and she wears expensive robes, richly textured and embroidered.
This is a superb print in very fine condition from the first edition. The deep blue of the background is sprinkled with mica and there is deep embossing to the collar of the under robes. Full size with margins, colour, impression and state all very fine.
Published by Fukuda Kumajiro.
37cm x 25.5cm.