Kuniyoshi, A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets 65 - O-Kiku and Kyogoku Takumi

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets #65: O-Kiku and Kyogoku Takumi, 1845 - 1847. Oban.

Although there are
my sleeves that never dry,
bitter and sad,
what I really regret is
my name, made rotten by love!

This very nice print by Kuniyoshi from the Ogura One Hundred Poets series shows a wicked character from Japanese kabuki - the fencing instructor Kyogoku Takumi - thwarting an attempt on his life by the tragic O-Kiku. As with many of the series, the scene is a popular subject with kabuki audiences; censorship of the theatre and associated media meant that artists needed to look elsewhere for subject matter but, as is the case here, the popular influence of kabuki dramas was everywhere concealed. These mitate prints were complex enough, but the canny viewer would have easily recognised the allusions to theatre in nearly every sheet - despite the apparent high-mindedness of the ostensible subject.

Yoshioka Ichimisai is the head of a fencing school; his rival Takumi wants to wed Ichimisai’s daughter but is refused. Angered, he challenges the older man to a duel and is humiliated; he later kills him in a cowardly assault. Ichimisai’s daughters, O-Kiku and O-Sono, seek revenge. O-Kiku is killed and her sister, years later finally finds love and vengeance for her father. The poem is understood to represent the feelings of O-Kiku and her regret at not avenging her father (what I really regret is my name, made rotten by love!). Kuniyoshi shows the dastardly Takumi, effortlessly disarming the hapless O-Kiku. The central cartouche here differs from the previous prints and it is not clear why the overall design changed roughly halfway through production. The cartouche for the second part of the series shows an imaginary portrait of the supposed poet - a device used decades earlier by Hokusai on the same subject.

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 of 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.

A very fine print in excellent condition.  Full size with margins, minor centre fold, colour and impression are also fine.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo.

36cm x 24cm.