Hiroshige, A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets 21 - Shinobu Sota and Umewakamaru

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets #21: Shinobu Sota and Umewakamaru, 1845 -1847. Oban.

It was only because you said
you would come right away
that I have waited
these long months, till even
the wan morning moon has come out.

This tender print by the great Hiroshige depicts the tragedy of the boy Umewakamaru at the point of being kidnapped by the slaver Shinobu Sota. It is easy to confuse Umewakamaru with another boy child Ushiwakamaru. Umewakamaru is not a golden child though, not physically strong or capable of great feats like his near namesake. Umewakamaru is of noble birth and enters a monastery as a small child before leaving aged twelve. Whilst walking to the village nearby, he is waylaid by the evil trader Sota who takes him nearly to Edo but abandons him on the banks of the Sumida. Tired and neglected the boy dies and is found by local villagers who bury him under a willow tree. His mother searches for years before finding the grave, whereon she is distraught. That night, she sees the spirit of her boy among the branches of the willow.

The poem that was chosen here represents the sadness of waiting experienced by the boy wishing for his mother. Hiroshige draws the moment of abduction, the trader is made cartoon evil - his bared teeth and staring eyes - and in contrast the child is drawn with a moving grace; feminine in his gesture.

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 good condition, except for visible centre-fold and two small stains.  Full size with margins, colour and impression are also fine.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo.

36cm x 24cm.