Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Celebrated Treasures of Land and Sea (Sankai medetai zue) #47: Lumber from Osumi (Wanting to Get a Discount) 12th month 1852. Oban.
This fine series by Kuniyoshi demonstrates the complexity of ukiyo-e, its delight in punning and allusion and the difficulty of disentangling meaning from the combination of text and images. In this beautiful print we see a woman with an assistant at the point of purchasing two small potted plants. In the background an inset picture (by Kuniyoshi’s daughter), shows workmen in a lumber yard in Osumi Province, sawing planks.
The 2009 Kuniyoshi Exhibition at the Royal Academy London featured this series and the catalogue notes that:
The word medetai in the title not only means ‘auspicious’, but in this context also refers to the ‘products we should be grateful for’. The -tai suffix is playfully repeated as the last sound in the subtitle of each print... when -tai occurs at the end of a verb it signifies a wish to do something, and there is a sense in some compositions that the woman is excited or impatient.
Ukiyo-e artists had become habituated to random censorship over many years. The Tempo reforms of 1843 radically restricted subject matter and extravagance in woodblock prints leading to imprisonment and prosecution for many artists including Kuniyoshi. Out of these strictures, artists refined the language of the woodblock print which had the unforeseen effect of invigorating the art form through necessity. Although not subject to censorship at this time, artists such as Kuniyoshi nevertheless delighted in their habit of obscure or complex meanings, hence the allusive nature of the title and its tenuous linking of the subject matter.
This series is one of Kuniyoshi’s most highly regarded and is rightly sought after. The print here is in fine condition, trimmed to the image but otherwise unfaded and a clean, a fine impression.
Signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga; publisher Mita-ya Kihachi.