Kunichika, Ichikawa Udanji as Ozawa Tomofusa

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) The Actor Ichikawa Udanji as Ozawa Tomofusa, 1882. Oban triptych.

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This is one of Kunichika’s truly outstanding designs. Anticipating the further daring designs he would go on to make in the last decade of his life, this startling, single figure triptych is one of the high points of the late ukiyo-e scene.

This dramatic scene uses one of the most delicate of print techniques in the background, this almost nanga style of painting (an Edo style that derives from traditional Chinese brush painting). The engraver has beautifully translated the quick brushstroke that describes the trees and the printer has unevenly inked the blocks to imitate the ebb and flow of the ink and the different pressure of the brush strokes. Kunichika masterfully sets the figure of Ozawa Tomofusa with its stark, bold geometric shapes and flowing, flame red hair against the ethereal background; the whole composition set within the three rice measure frame of the Ichikawa clan.

The scene is from the kabuki play Mochizuki and the action takes place at an inn, managed by Tomofusa. A woman and her son take refuge, seeking to avenge the death of the boy’s father. Their victim is also staying at the inn and Tomofusa agrees to assist in his murder. Disguising the woman and boy as Geisha and attendant, they ply the man with drink until he passes out. The highlight of the play is a lion dance (shishimai) performed as part of the entertainment by  Tomofusa. The assassin is then despatched by the boy and his mother. The print shows Ichikawa Udanji dressed as a lion dancer.

This is a superb piece, the print quality is excellent, the colour and impression both very fine. There is a little printer’s offsetting on the left sheet otherwise the condition is excellent. Mounted on Japanese album backing paper.

The print is illustrated on p.112 of Newland, Time Past and Time Present, Images of a Forgotten Master,  Hotei Publishing 1999.

Published by Watanbe Yataro.

71cm x 36cm.