Kunichika, Comparison of Flowers and the Twelve Months - June (Iris)

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Comparison of Flowers and the Twelve Months: June (Iris) -  Nakamura Shikan IV as Nuregami Chogoro, 1880. Oban.

We are showing three prints from this little seen series of actor portraits paired with twelve months. Each of the months is itself paired with flowers and there is an explicit comparison between the roles of the actors and the flowers. This type of cryptic allusion is called a mitate and became a dominant genre during the Tempo Reforms of the 1840’s, used by artists as a means to circumvent censorship… one thing standing in for another. The effect was to create a new genre of guessing picture which was popular with the public who were challenged to solve the often baffling symbolism of the prints.

In this print we see Nakamura Shikan IV as Nuregami Chogoro against a background of Irises, symbolising the month of June from the play Sumoba. The play concerns a sumo wrestling bout between Chogoro and his younger opponent Chokichi. Chogoro wishes for his patron to win the hand of the girl he loves - coincidentally also the girl beloved of Chokichi’s patron. Chogoro throws the bout to put Chokichi in his debt, thus to persuade his patron to give up the girl. The iris is also known as hanashoubu, hana meaning “flower” and shoubu, a play on words that can mean “martial spirit” or  “victory or defeat” as in a match or a showdown. Designs of the iris were often stamped into tanned deerskin and worn into battle to protect a warrior. In this print, Kunichika alludes to the bout of wrestling by referring to the well known pun on the flower's spelling, thus setting the character in June, the month that the iris is in bloom.

This print is a very good example of Meiji theatre series, colourful, intriguing, dramatic and beautifully designed. Colour and impression are fine and condition is good.

35 x 25 cm.