Yoshikuni, Nakamura Utaemon III as Taikouchi Hanbei

Jukodo Yoshikuni (active 1813 - 1831) Nakamura Utaemon III as Taikouchi Hanbei From the Play Kotobuki Horaison, 1821. Oban.

This very rare print comes from the archaic period; it is in the larger oban format and displays the vigorous (sometimes called "strong hand") style of the Osaka School at the time. Yoshikuni was a hugely important figure, being not only an artist and printmaker but a poet in his own right and an important figurehead in the literary and poetic coteries that were a feature of the cultural scene in Osaka in the first half of the nineteenth century. The same is true of Nakamura Utaemon III. It is hard to find an analogy for the cultural and popular enthusiasm for certain kabuki actors of the period - possibly Brando or Richard Burton in the 1960’s? Utaemon III was a phenomenally popular actor who adopted Fujima Kanjuro (later Nakamura IV) in 1811 (see previous two prints). He eventually and controversially, conferred his full name to his disciple in 1836. As was often the case, Utaemon manipulated his public by residing for lengthy periods in either Edo or Osaka. Returning to Osaka in 1819, ten of his fan clubs decked whole ships with paraphernalia, sailing alongside his own, in a display that was more dramatic than any festival seen before in the city. Restaurants baked special meals, dressed their waiters in the actor’s colours and the doors of the fans’ houses were frequently inscribed with the poetic works of the kabuki star. Utaemon was a noted poet and playwright with many prints containing his own verses. A versatile actor he played… “heroes, villains, women, dancing even… he does it all - a preposterous trickster” as one contemporary reviewer wrote.

The high point of Yoshikuni’s career was the period 1820-22, the period of this print and coinciding with the return to Osaka of Utaemon III. His prints from this period are known to be exceptional and to show a particularly "strong hand". This print shows a kaomise performance - a face showing ceremony, celebrating the opening of the new theatrical year. Utaemon is shown face on, beating a drum held by two attendants. They bear the kanji for Naka on their hats - a reference to the Naka theatre where the performance was being staged. The faded text at the top right of the print is a poem by Yoshikuni, and has his seal below in red. The character of Hanbei is depicted in a print by Kunisada from 1852, played coincidentally by Utaemon’s successor Utaemon the IV. The play is based on the true story of a double suicide in Osaka in 1772.  Hanbei, an honourable man, is seduced by his step-mother; however he is devoted to his wife and, feeling compromised, he decides to take his own life. Unable to live without him, his wife joins him and they commit shinju (a lovers' double suicide) rather than live with the dishonour.

A very fine and rare print, it is full size, oban, and in good condition - there is some fading to the poem and a few minor, repaired wormholes. The colour and impression are both fine.

37cm x 25cm.