Kunichika, The Village School Scene from Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) The Village School Scene from Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami , 1890’s. Oban triptych.

This is a good example of Kunichika’s late style of the 1890’s. It has all of the hallmarks of Kunichika’s so called cinematic style. The broad sweep of blank paper neatly balanced by the isolation of the two characters and the ground broken by the great emphasis on the calligraphy which is the only feature of the centre sheet. The bold sparseness of the designs was quite revolutionary and was an attempt by Kunichika to breathe new life into not only kabuki but the already fading popularity of ukiyo prints themselves. He succeeded, for as long as his partnership with Ichikawa Danjuro IX (pictured right) lasted.

It is hard to quantify these last great triptychs. Whilst being so bold in their modernity, there is also something primitive about their emphasis on drawing and they evoke some of the early nineteenth century triptychs of Toyokuni I, the founder of the Utagawa School of which Kunichika was to be the last member a century later.

This print shows a popular tragedy: the samurai Matsuomaru has substituted the head of his own son for that  of the son of his former Lord, in order to repay a debt of honour. The samurai Genzo whose job it is to identify and recover the correct boy’s head looks on challengingly from the left. The scene takes place at a village school and this awful moment of recognition is the play’s most famous scene. Matsuomaru wears a distinctive kimono of mournful, snow-covered pines, as is traditional for the role.

A very fine print with burnished shomenzuri patterns to Matsuomaru’s cloak. The colour and impression are fine, the condition is excellent overall other than a small stain to the left hand sheet.

71cm x 36cm.