Hirosada, The Complete Six Immortal Poets

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) The Complete Set of Six Immortal Poets (from the play Yosooi Rokkasen) 1852. Deluxe Chuban Hexaptych (in three double sheets).

Click here to view sheets 3 and 4.

Click here to view sheets 5 and 6.

Click here for a detail from sheet 2.

Click here for a detail from sheet 3.

Nakamura Utaemon IV as Sojo Henjo, Bunya no Yasyhide and Kisen Hoshi; Nakamura Nanshi II as Ono no Komachi; Nakamura Utaemon IV as Ariwara no Narihira and Otomo no Kuronushi.

We are very fortunate to have this complete set of the Six Immortal Poets by Hirosada. They make for an astonishing collection. The condition here is near perfect, the quality of the impression and the luxury of the printing are also equally outstanding. Once again we are commemorating Nakamura Utaemon IV in his performance from 1852 that was to be his last before falling ill and dying during the following month.

The Six Poets Immortal belongs to a tradition of vigorous dance pieces called hengemono. They existed to showcase the actor and his skill at quick changing costumes and transforming characters between five acts. In this case, Utaemon IV plays all the parts with the exception of the female role here played by Nakayama Nanshi. The play is a mitate - the same form that exists in ukiyo prints, whereby one thing, sometimes comically, stands in for another. In this case the subject is six poets, anthologised in the middle ages and revered as giants of literary greatness. The popular and ribald form of kabuki transforms these stern figures of the past into comical, sometimes ludicrous figures who bear little relation to their distant antecedents.

One example shows how the lyric and the performance teases the audience with its satire but also with its learning. Bunya Yasuhide was known to be an official in the Mikawa Province. His access to high ranking aristocrats would have been limited and in the play, he is shown as a vulgar and comical character forever chasing after unreachable women. In one scene a group of horrendous ladies-in-waiting, played by comic onnagata actors, approach Bunya in an attempt at seduction. The action suggests that he is repelled by their bad breath and the lyric cleverly uses lines from Bunya’s famous poem about a mountain storm that wilts the autumn grasses.

The six prints are masterful pieces of design and restrained expression. Hirosada uses the elaborate costumes as abstract devices to animate the page and create a rhythm across the entire hexaptych. Some designs stand out particularly - the strange curved collar in red on the portrait of Otomo no Kuronushi that looks like a section of the Sydney Opera House, or the bird-like hat and fan that punches a hole in the portrait of Ariwara no Narihira. Throughout the series the prints are incised, burnished, embossed, gilded or dusted with fine metals or else the colours are washed, blended and overprinted. It would be hard to find a more sophisticated use of the woodblock technique than in this set of prints. The group are truly outstanding. A full description of the performance and its meaning can be found in James R Brandon, Kabuki Plays on Stage: Darkness and Desire 1804-1864 p 176. A full page, illustrating all six prints appears in Dean J Swaab, Osaka Prints, John Murray 1989.

Six deluxe chuban prints mounted in three pairs, full size with margins. Condition, impression and colour all very fine. Signed Hirosada on each sheet with seal.

Chuban six sheets 108cm x 25cm.