Hiroshige, A Comparison of the Ogura 100 Poets 48 - The Maid O-Kiku

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets #48: The Maid O-Kiku, 1847. Oban.

Waves that break against the rocks,
fanned by a fierce wind -
it is I alone
who breaks, those times
when I think of her!

We are showing six prints from the very famous print series The One Hundred Poets Compared, sometimes known as the Ogura Poets Compared. This series of 100 prints is one of the outstanding achievements of woodblock printing in Japan in the nineteenth century. Commissioned by the publisher Ibaya Senzaburo in 1845, the series is the joint work of Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige and Kunisada - the three outstanding woodblock artists of the age. The prints in the series are beautifully composed, drawn and printed and they exhibit a remarkable conformity of style. The edition was one in a long line of anthologies which gathered together the canon of great poetry going back to the eighth century. Whilst there had been previous attempts by artists to anthologise and illustrate the great poems, notably by Hokusai, and Kuniyoshi himself, this was the first major work to be completed.

The poems themselves were gathered together by the scholar Fujiwara no Teika in 1235. It is presumed that these poems were taken from a commission that resulted in the pieces being written out by hand by Teika and glued to the doors of his villa in the shadow of Mount Ogura - hence the name of the series. Some of these fragments still exist in museums in Japan. One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, became the standard textbook for Japanese poetry for centuries to come. The poems themselves are in the Tanka style, that is, five lines of five, seven, five, seven and seven syllables - different to the more familiar Haiku popular today. The prints are mitate - pictures that allude via analogy to the subject of the print. In this way, the publisher challenged the reader to find the meaning of the pictures within the visual clues of the print.

In this lovely print by Hiroshige, we see the maid O-Kiku from a very famous, and purportedly true story, about a maid who is tricked into believing that she has broken a valuable plate. This ruse is played on her by her master in order to seduce her through shame. In despair O-Kiku throws herself down the well rather than succumb to her wicked master.  There are various retellings of the story in literature and in the kabuki theatre. In each one, the ghost of O-Kiku shrieks from the well at night, sending the samurai mad.

In this print the plate is visible in the foreground, and O-Kiku wears a robe of chrysanthemums. The allusion to the poem is through the punning of many of the words which do not suffer translation. Principal among these is the line: It is I alone who breaks.

A fine print, colour impression and condition are excellent.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo.

36cm x 24cm.