Kuniyoshi, The Five Festivals

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) An Unknown Print from the series The Five Festivals (Go sekku no uchi) 1849. Oban.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

A companion to the first print on this page, this piece is an unknown extra print from the Five Festivals series of 1849. There is no record of the piece and it is possible that the print was issued as an alternative or replacement to one of the five known issued prints. This makes it a rarity.

The series depicts the five great festivals of Japan likened to scenes from the kabuki play Onna gori goshiki no hana kago. The series is a mitate - in other words the festival is a stand-in subject for the real intention of depicting popular kabuki actors at a time when the decadence of the theatre was being proscribed by the authorities. The effect was to force ukiyo artists to use analogy or metaphor to disguise the real subject of the print.

In reality as this series shows, there was little attempt at subterfuge and these mitate scenes became merely another genre for the artist to exploit - a game played with the knowing audience. The five festivals are Jinjitsu (the seven herbs), Joushi (girls festival), Tango (boy’s day), Tanabata (star festival) and  Choyo (chrysanthemum).

The print depicts two actors in onnagata roles and a third male role in elaborate decorative costume. It is a beautiful piece, finely drawn and printed with very fine colour and impression. The condition is excellent.

Published by Minato-ya Kohei.