Yoshitaki, The Five Elements (Gogyo no Uchi)

Utagawa Yoshitaki (ca 1841 - 1899) The Five Elements (Gogyo no uchi) Early 1861. Deluxe Chuban Pentaptych.

Click here to view sheet 1 (Earth).

Click here to view sheet 2 (Water).

Click here to view sheet 3 (Metal).

Click here to view sheet 4 (Fire).

Click here to view sheet 5 (Wood).

Click here to view a detail from sheet 5.

Click here to view a detail from sheet 3.

One of the most outstandingly technical prints I have seen and in extraordinary condition. Five sheets, forming a complete series, of the five elements - earth, water, metal, fire and wood. The series is a mitate of sorts, although there was by this time little need to disguise actors or roles; nevertheless the conceit of hiding identity within a broader framework was popular with artists and the public. The prints are lavish in their use of embossed features, deeply incised into the paper. There are extensive passages of gold and silver inks, delicate bokashi shading and dense, overlayed inks. It is very rare to find all five of these prints and all of them from the same edition and in such outstanding condition. One print - on the far right - is in the collection of the MFA, but I have never seen all five gathered together, possibly making the assemblage unique.

Actors and roles have been chosen to reflect the element that they represent. Some plays are instantly recognisable: the figure of Yaegaki-hime (played by Arashi Rikan) on the right, lifting the ceremonial helmet from its stand in order to escape to her lover across the frozen lake by the light of magical fox-fires, for example. Note the shadowy puppet masters behind her (she is a bunraku  puppet), their figures subtly embossed. The figure of Sasahara Hayoto played by Gennosuke from the play Ogura no Shikishi is also easily spotted on the second right. Unfortunately, some of the sheets are unknown, and as is so often the case, the plots of many Osaka plays are lost.

This is a very beautiful and well preserved print. The colour, (enriched by many deluxe enhancements) is very fine, as is the edition, the impression and the condition. Five sheets joined and backed with album backing paper. 

Each sheet 19cm x 26cm.