Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) A Collection of Songs Set to Koto Music (Koto no kuniuta zukushi): Playing With Children, 1840. Oban.
This very beautiful and touchingly observed scene of two women and their children playing is from a series of five prints issued in 1840. There are so many of these elegant series by Japanese artists throughout the century and they have no good contemporary equivalent. These are ‘glamour’ pictures to some extent, but in distinction to contemporary images of women these are pictures that show women as individuals - mothers, travellers, women engaged in tasks, playing music etc. There is little or no flesh exposed and often a hint of word play or association. The intimacy of observation elevates the best of these above the mawkish, sentimental or merely virtuous. In European art, it is perhaps Degas (an admirer of ukiyo-e in fact) who comes closest to these images, with his keenly observed sketches of Parisian women’s work.
This is a fine example of the genre. Kuniyoshi distorts the space in the picture in order to create the vortex of colour and design that make up the bright patterns of the kimono and the clothing. There is a so much fine observation here in the child with the origami crane watching his mother place a similar toy to her mouth - perhaps to make bird noises? Equally, the child above is persistently tugging at his mother, teasing her with a turtle tied to a string, the shoulder of her kimono sliding into his grasp. Scissors and paper litter the floor, clouds make up the background. The turtle evokes Hiroshige’s famous print of a turtle tied to a string in 100 Famous Views of Edo. Turtles were sold in this way at the foot of the Mannen Bridge in Fukagawa. It was hoped that by purchasing one of these creatures and setting it free the purchaser could improve their own karma by granting life.
This is a great print, fine colour and impression, full size and in very good condition. Album binding holes on left hand edge and some foxing to the bottom of the page, away from the image.
Published by Eshima.