Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Actors in a Scene from the Play Ashiya Doman Ouchi Kagami, 1850's. Oban Triptych.
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About a year ago, we presented an exhibition Re-assessing Kunisada, in which rather than looking back to the 18th Century for Kunisada's inspirations, we looked at the vibrant urban culture which informed his print-making. Best known for his depictions of the kabuki theatre, Kunisada was not afraid to plunge into the world of kabuki itself, a place of sedition and rebellion, of rowdy, unmanageable townspeople; something he succeeds in conveying with the brash use of colour and line in his later prints.
This very dramatic and unknown triptych by Kunisada represents a minor scene from a very well known kabuki play Ashiya Doman Ouchi Kagami. The play itself was very popular in Edo, and the commoner scene is that of the tragic fox demon, Kuzu-no-Ha writing in calligraphy onto a paper screen, holding a brush with her teeth. The story involves the love affair between a man and a fox demon. They live together and have a child, with the demon taking the form of a young girl. When the man's parents visit, some years later, the demon realises that she must leave and she writes a tragic farewell note on the screen as she transforms back into a fox. Her lover takes the boy and stumbles after her into the wood. The final scene takes place in the forest, Kuzu-no-Ha meets a group of yakko (footmen/porters) who enact an elaborate dance followed by a striking pose - this is the scene illustrated. The floating fires indicate the presence of a supernatural element - in this case the fox demon, out of sight.
In this print, Kunisada portrays the three actors in kumadori make-up with lavish costumes. They tumble with a samurai travelling chest above their heads performing a tachimawari - a stylised fight scene.
It is a fine scene - inventive, lyrical and full of movement. The print is in very good condition, impression and colour all fine.
74cm x 35cm.