Hiroshige, A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets 81 - The Crossroads of Gappo

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets #81: The Crossroads of Gappo, 1845 -1847. Oban.

The cuckoo:
when I gaze out towards where
he was singing,
all that remains is the moon,
pale in the morning sky.

This Hiroshige print is one of the most overt references to kabuki drama in the whole of this fine series. A Picture Book of the Crossroads at Gappo was a sensational novel appearing in 1804. It was further sensationalised by the famous kabuki playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV. The plot will be familiar to any kabuki aficionado… revenge, bloodlust, family feuds etc. I recommend the synopsis at Kabuki 21 for a full explanation.

Hiroshige draws Takabashi Yojuro and his wife Tsuma Satsuki. Takabashi is bent on avenging the death of a retainer at the hands of Saeda Daigakunosuke in an effort to get hold of an heirloom that will gift him the leadership of the Taga clan. The text at the top of the page (normally opaque in meaning) is explicit here - perhaps due to the complexity of the Gappo plot. It refers at length to the purple irises - associated with poem and to the purple of Satsuki’s attire. Also referenced is the long cry of the cuckoo: seen here upper right, a recurring image in Japanese prints, it is associated with the longing of the spirits of the dead to return to their loved ones. Mourning, longing, melancholy; these are suggested maybe by its song and perhaps signals its persistent use in woodblock prints. This is a fine print, full of mourning and portents of the struggle to come. The drawing of Satsuki is a particularly fine example of Hiroshige’s female subjects.

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, colour and impression are also fine.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo.

36cm x 24cm.