Kuniyoshi, A Comparison of the Ogura 100 Poets - Ben no Naisha and Matagoro

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets: Ben no Naisha and Matagoro, 1847. Oban.

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A vibrant and energetic print from the finest collection of ukiyo-e of the nineteenth century. In 1845 the publisher Ibaya Senzaburo commissioned the three leading artists of the day, Hiroshige, Kunisada and Kuniyoshi, to contribute to an anthology of 100 poems by 100 poets. The poem is written at the top of the print and a scene from history or drama is illustrated below, each scene being an obscure allusion to the subject of the poem.

This print illustrates one of the many popular stories that surround foxes, superstitions, and their mysterious habits. An Emperor (Masatsura) is visited by a woman who wants to be his wife. The same woman is brought again by a guard called Matagoro. The Emperor becomes suspicious and tosses Matagoro a sake cup, which he stumbles to retrieve in the snow, revealing his fox’s footprints. He takes his true form and his female companion Ben no Naisha reveals herself as his fox wife. They are there to retrieve the fox skin drum, owned by Masatsura and made from the skin of Matagoro’s father. The Emperor takes pity on them and gives them the treasure they so much want.

Kuniyoshi pictures the ecstatic couple frolicking in the snow. Their kimonos are decorated with a motif of blue and yellow flaming pearls, associated with foxes and their magical powers. Kuniyoshi has given Matagoro the face of the actor Nakamura Utaemon IV. The print is delightful, Kuniyoshi imbues the couple with great energy, emphasised by the exaggerated ballooning of the fabric and the baroque shapes of the flaming pearl motifs.

The poem which relates to the print is as as follows:

Fair Yoshino / the autumn wind in its mountains / deepens the night / and in former capital, cold / I hear the fulling of cloth

Kuniyoshi here alludes to the snow of the poem and the sound of the fulling blocks equating with the fox skin drum. An identical story changes the characters and sets the scene in the court of Yoshitsune.

A fine print from the series, full size, fine colour, impression and condition.

The print is illustrated in Herwig & Mostow, The One Hundred Poets Compared, Hotei Publishing 2007.

34cm x 22cm.