Kuniyoshi, A Modern Set of Edo Provinces in Brocade Style - Mimaska and Bizen

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) A Modern Set of Edo Provinces in Brocade Style: Mimaska and Bizen Provinces, 1852. Oban.

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This is a print from the enigmatically titled A Modern Set of Edo Provinces in Brocade Style. It comes from the same year as the successful Kunisada Tokaido Road series and may have been an attempt to cash in on the popularity of his rival’s themes. Certainly, actor censorship was still restrictive and this series, like that of Kunisada, is a thinly veiled attempt to portray a kabuki actor within a worthy subject matter. The series depicts two Japanese provinces on each sheet; the mitate (the game for the viewer) is to connect them and in a way, to reveal the performance.

In this case the link between the two panels is revenge and vendetta. The top frame shows Nagoya Sanzaburo in the snow and dressed in a straw coat, in the distance is Fuwa Banzaemon. The kabuki plays and dances associated with the story describe the rivalry between the two men who are often pictured in outsized straw hats and coats. Both men love a prostitute, Katsuragi. They fight, they duel, Banzaemon murders Sanzaburo’s father, ending finally, in the happy union of Sanzaburo and Katsugari.

The lower frame is a terrific portrait of Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi was an extraordinary character, the finest swordsman and duellist of his day and an accomplished artist and scholar. He fought his first duel at thirteen and then lived as a kind of western gunslinger for the rest of his life. In the play Chigusa no akitsuki ni Miyamoto, Musashi arrives at an island in pursuit of an enemy. He enrolls as a teacher in a fencing school run by Shirakura Dengoemon who is jealous of his skills and plots to kill him by getting him drunk and locking him in the bath house without his sword. Musashi comes to in the steam room and bursts out wielding a broken beam, surrounded by Dengoemon’s men. In the following fight scene, Shirakura Dengoemon is killed and Musashi escapes having also killed Dengoemon’s wife. The ‘Brocade Style’ of the title refers to the rapidly developing richness and complexity of woodblock prints, different in every way from the plainer, dryer ukiyo-e of the earlier part of the century.

A very nice print, an early edition, fine impression, colour and condition, trimmed a little on the bottom edge.

Published by Mitaya Kihachi, signed Kuniyoshi ga.

25cm x 36cm.