Hirosada, Nakamura Utaemon IV as Oboshi Yuranosuke from the Kanadehon Chushingura

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Nakamura Utaemon IV as Oboshi Yuranosuke from the Kanadehon Chushingura, 1851. Deluxe Chuban.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

This masterpiece is in the fully formed, mature Osaka style and the distinctive hand of Konishi Hirosada - the great genius of Osaka prints and one of the most underrated artists of the nineteenth century. In this piece we see the hallmarks of the later Osaka print: the thick, handmade paper, the use of metallic inks and dense opaque pigments; the subtle, blind embossing of the features; the glossy, black lacquer of the hair; and the extraordinary brevity of the drawing style.

There are two ‘events’ separating the previous prints from these later ‘mannered’ pieces. One is the devastating Tempo reforms of 1842, the other was the gradual but influential contact with artists of the Utagawa School, notably Utagawa Kunisada. The influence of Kunisada and Hiroshige are complex and the detail of the various artists contacts too lengthy to account for here. Suffice to say that if we assume (as is now commonplace) that the artist Sadahiro is the earlier incarnation of Konishi Hirosada and that Sadahiro was a pupil of the Utagawa artist, then the new sophistication of these later works becomes understandable. The Tempo reforms of 1842 were an austerity measure interestingly comparable to that pursued currently by the British Government: an economic package designed to boost the economy and a moral crusade that was randomly associated with moralising self improvement. The effect was the closure of theatres, the outlawing of prints that depicted actors and the persecution of actors and sex workers. State censorship effectively closed the woodblock industry and strangled the artists’ livelihood. Morally improving prints were encouraged on themes such as filial piety, loyalty and devotion.

The effect was the creation of highly complex mitate - untitled prints of actors and performances masquerading as worthy subject matter. Prints were increasingly issued in limited, deluxe formats to small coteries of earnest enthusiasts, leading to the exquisite, jewel-like quality of these post-Tempo images. By 1850, the reforms had waned and artists were fairly free to print what they wanted, but the attributes of the former restraints lingered on.

In this print we see again the familiar face of Nakamura Utaemon IV. Here he plays the character of Oboshi Yuranosuke, the leading force behind the epic story of revenge in the Chushingura - the loyalty of the 47 Ronin. The subject was especially popular with Edo print artists and remains emblematic in Japan to this day.

The print is in mint condition, full size with margins and uses the range of deluxe techniques available in the day. Hirosada conveys with great subtlety the reserve and emotion of Yuranosuke with his usual economy. Colour, condition and impression are all very fine. Original album backing.

18cm x 25cm.