Kunisada, Sawamura Tossho II as Wakana Hime from Toyokuni Manga zue

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) The actor Sawamura Tossho II in the role of Wakana Hime from the series Toyokuni Manga zue, 1859. Oban.

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A stunning, exceptional, woodblock print from a series which is widely considered to be  one of Kunisada’s finest achievements. Created towards the end of his life, this series of actor portraits was printed to previously unheard-of standards. The publisher commissioned the finest materials: thick paper and special inks. The print quality is extraordinary and the first edition incorporates deluxe techniques normally associated with Osaka prints. There are raised and metallic embellishments, mica, metallics and splashed and hand painted gofun.

This print shows Princess Wakana enchanting a spider, a scene from the kabuki play Shiranui Monogatari. The play tells the story of the young Princess Wakana whose family are wiped out in a feud with another clan. She is rescued by a kindly spider and given the gift of spider magic. The plot tells of her vendetta to take revenge upon the Kikuchi family who were the cause of her downfall. Kunisada pictures the scene where Wakana uses the magic of the spider scroll to conjure a gigantic beast to assist her in her fight with Akisaku, a retainer of the Kikuchi. This is a classic revenge story and fits the dramatic Japanese genre of the vengeful bride. (Charles Inouye makes a fascinating analogy between Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and the vendetta of Wakana against the family who have wronged her).

The print itself is outstanding and of the very fine first edition. Princess Wakana reads from the magic scroll and looks up to where the spider is being conjured in its web. The conjured spider web in the top right of the print is rendered in fine, applied mica in such a way that it is only visible under certain lights (see detail). Elsewhere, the depth of colour and the quality of design and execution is among some of the best of Kunisada’s work.

Very fine print of the first edition, full size, very fine colour, impression and condition.

Signed ni konomi Toyokuni ga; published by Uoya Eikichi.