Kuniyoshi, 24 Paragons of Filial Duty - Tseng Ts'an in a Tree

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Tseng Ts’an in a Tree from The Twenty-four Chinese Paragons of Filial Duty, 1848. Chuban.

This print is from a fascinating and fairly unique series of prints by Kuniyoshi in 1848. Three things stand out: the series is in the smaller chuban format which Kuniyoshi hardly ever used; the paper is curiously shiny and unlike normal washi paper and the drawing and execution is remarkably Italianate or western in feel.

The several series of filial piety produced by Kuniyoshi in the 1840’s were probably done in response to government censorship imposed on the production and subject matter of woodblock prints. These exemplars of confucian duty would have pleased the censors and there is speculation that they may have found an audience with parents as gifts to daughters, (along with volumes of explicit shunga). Kuniyoshi is very clearly trying to imitate the western style in this series, the most European of all his prints. The figure in the tree in this print finds its inspiration from a figure group in Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel - something which Kuniyoshi may have been familiar with through engravings. Going further to ‘westernise’ his prints, it seems that wax was applied to the Japanese paper to give it the laid quality of foreign paper stock and also the format; European books would most likely have been closer to the chuban format than the oversize oban of his native Japan. This very fine print is terribly arresting, as it hovers between the two styles.

The story is of Soshin (Chinese name Tseng Ts’an) who was gathering wood when his mother back home bit her own finger in anger at her son’s absence. Feeling his mother’s pain he rushes home. Kuniyoshi pictures him rushing to her aid.

This is a terrific print, densely designed and drawn, and crucially lacking the centre fold seen on almost all copies of prints from this series. The waxed surface is very pronounced and in good condition. Fine colour and fine impression, two small holes in the upper left. Full size.

Published by Fushimi-ya Zenroku.

25cm x 18cm.