Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Yendo Musha Morito holding the Head of Kesa-gozen among Falling Maple Leaves, 1840. Oban.
Throughout his long career, Kuniyoshi made numerous designs which appear to be part of a series but which were produced at intervals of several years. Anomalies exist whereby designs issued late in his career were clearly drawn and conceived many years before. The Kuniyoshi authority, B W Robinson gathers these prints together under the general heading: 'Single Sheet Prints in Series'. This print (S1e6 in Robinson) is an example of one such anomaly. The indicators of a series are evident - the single figure portrait with elaborate cartouche (usually containing series information) and the overall design suggest a multiple edition. This unusual print stands alone however and illustrates the samurai Yendo Musha Morito holding the head of Kesa-Gozen, standing among falling maple leaves.
Endo Morito, the son of a minor courtier became infatuated with Kesa Gozen despite the fact that she was married to a palace guard. He bullied her until she agreed to his advances on the condition that he murder her husband. She concealed herself in her husband’s room having first cut off her long hair. Morito stole into the room and cut off the head of the sleeping figure only discovering later that he had killed the object of his desire. He was overcome with remorse and became a monk (changing his name to Mongaku) and spent three years enduring the harshest penance, praying beneath the Nachi Falls in the freezing winter, the subject of many ukiyo prints. At the point of death, he is rescued by Fudo Myo (the Buddhist deity of fire) and by Kannon, the goddess of compassion.
This is a classic Kuniyoshi composition, gruesome and assured. Beautifully drawn, especially in the muscular treatment of the legs. The impression and colour are fine, the condition is very good with a slight centre fold.
Published by Soshu-ya Yohei.
37cm x 26cm.