Toyokuni I, Women and Carriage

Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) Women and Carriage, c. 1805.

Toyokuni is perhaps most associated with actor prints, a genre that he helped create and develop into a massive industry in nineteenth century Japan. Toyokuni responded to the growing public obsession with kabuki actors and the bulk of his output after 1810 (often criticised these days) is of stars of the kabuki stage.

His earlier work was in the tradition of the eighteenth century ukiyo artists such as Utamaro, later synthesising Utamaro’s mature style with that of his teacher Toyoharu and others to produce a mature style of his own. This style was to influence the artistic direction of woodblock printing in Japan for an entire century, making him one of the most influential Japanese artists of all time.

I cannot find any reference to this print, but it is a very fine Toyokuni indeed; dated between 1800 and 1805, it shows the transition of his style from that of the derivative works of the eighteenth century to his own, confident and mature style that became so popular in the nineteenth. It is said of Toyokuni that he drew what he saw, that he developed a new kind of naturalism for Japanese art. It is true that much of what is admired still about classical ukiyo-e all too often drifts towards mannerism.

Toyokuni shows a noble woman emerging from her carriage holding a fan, and two attendants outside. The carriage is particularly striking and acts as a model for several versions by Kuniyoshi and Kunisada later in the century. There is great beauty in the black structure and the edges of the timber, cleverly printed in reverse; all of this contrasting with the delicacy of the three women - the left hand figure showing a debt to Utamaro, the right hand one pointing to Toyokuni’s mature style.

Colour is good with some inevitable fading; impression and condition very good with one minor restored wormhole.

Published by Maruya Jimpachi.

39cm x 24cm.