Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Flowers of Edo or Kunichika's Caricatures: Nakamura Shikan IV as Otomo Kuronushi, 1872. Oban.
This is a very fine 1872 series from Kunichika. It shows the insurgent rebel Otomo Kuronushi in the act of cutting down a cherry tree - symbolised here by the falling petals. It is a great violent and roiling design, filled with pent up energy like the stylised storm clouds that decorate his clothing. The turbid yet energetic designs dominate the drawing, and the face of the actor - a violent grimace in classical kabuki mie - is locked into the middle of the print by all the activity that surrounds it.
The play here is The Snow Bound Barrier of Love, featured in triptych form by Kunichika some years later and also in this exhibition. The play is set at a border post in the mountains. A couple are fleeing the authorities in true kabuki style, but stop at the border. The guard Sekibi is in fact the brigand Otomo Kuronushi who has stolen some valuable imperial seals and intends to bring down the government and rule over the country. Whilst drunk on saki, he takes an axe to the cherry tree but the spirit of the tree reveals itself to him in the form of a beautiful woman. They fight with magic and gradually Kuronushi succumbs to the might of the female spirit.
Confusingly, Otomo Kuronushi is also the name of one of the great, six immortal poets of Japan.
A very nice print, colour and impression are all fine, condition is good with some surface soiling.
24 x 35 cm.