Kuniyoshi, 53 Parallels for the Tokaido Road - Fujikawa Station

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Fifty-three Parallels for the Tokaido Road (Tokaido gojusan tsui) Fujikawa Station: Isogai Hyodayu Stepping on the Sword of Fujikawa Mizuemon, 1845-46. Oban.

This relatively obscure subject forms the principal image which only nominally illustrates the Tokaido post station at Fujikawa Station. That place and the figure attempting to retrieve his sword from beneath the foot of the standing figure share the same name. Mizuemon is perhaps most famous now for an outstanding actor portrait by the mysterious print artist Sharaku.  The scene is almost certainly from a vendetta play, Hanaayame Bunroku Soga, based on the true story of three brothers seeking revenge on the murder of their father. Again we see the inventive use of water in woodblock printing that crops up in so many prints about journeys and travelling.

The Tokaido Road was the great artery connecting the two most important centres of Japan - Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto (the Imperial centre). In the 1830’s the easing of travel restrictions opened the country to the business of trade and to the purely inquisitive and this new demand was met by artists such as Hokusai and Hiroshige who made wonderful prints of the entire route, punctuated at each of its 53 post stations. These series established a genre of Tokaido Road prints, and this print is from one of the best of these series.

The series is fascinating in that it was a collaboration of the three great artists of the day: Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige and Kunisada. The exact number of prints is unknown, but it is assumed currently that they produced 30, 20 and 8 respectively. The series is a precursor to one of the very best series of prints of the 19th century, A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets of 1847 in which the same three artists collaborated on a series celebrating the great Japanese poems. There are many compositional similarities to the two series… the unusual, aberrant cartouches, and the one third, two thirds division of the oban page. Both series were attempts by artists and publishers to circumvent the recently imposed censorship laws for woodblock prints.

A fine print, the lower margin is trimmed, otherwise fine condition, colour and impression.

Published by Kojima Jubei.

36cm x 25cm.