Kiyochika, Patterns of Flowers - Okuni

Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847 - 1915) Okuni from the series Patterns of Flowers (Hana Moyo) 1896. Oban Triptych.

This striking print is by Kobayashi Kiyochika, a highly regarded artist of the Meiji. Described as, "...the last important ukiyo-e master and the first noteworthy print artist of modern Japan" by Richard Lane in Images from the Floating World: The Japanese Print (Oxford University Press), he illustrates very nicely the growing bonds between east and west at the time.

In this uncharacteristically oriental series, Kiyochika portrays a single female against a middle distance backdrop of lesser figures. The flowers of the title are the women and their lavish costume. There was a vogue in the 1890’s for portraying the history of costume or hairstyle over the preceding ages - a good example being Chikanobu’s Mirror of the Ages series from 1897.  

In this fine piece, Kiyochika portrays Okuni, the founder of kabuki theatre from the seventeenth century. He fancifully shows Okuni, dressed in male costume although by her finely drawn features she is unmistakably female. In the background he shows a kabuki performance - the audience at the left and the orchestra in the right-hand panel. In fact kabuki performances of this period would have been makeshift affairs, performed outside, possibly without fanfare or music and by a motley collection of prostitutes and streetwalkers - the kabukimono - the people who lean.

Okuni was herself a temple servant who started her performances, an occasional mix of dance and comic skit in a dried up river bed on the outskirts of Kyoto. Her troupe of performers were exclusively female - a reversal of where kabuki as an art form ended up. Kiyochika depicts her as a strong and assertive woman with a powerful face and clear and direct features. She is shown performing on the third day of the sixth month of 1606.

This fine print is in perfect condition, full size with very fine colour and an early impression.

72cm x 37cm.