Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) The Gang of Five Coming Home Like Wild Ducks, 1860’s. Oban pentaptych.
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These five prints illustrate a play based on the actual activities of a group of thieves in 18th century Japan. Bunshichi was the leader of the ‘Five Chivalrous Men’ who were executed in 1702. Their exploits formed the basis of many puppet and then kabuki plays in the following centuries. The men’s roles were eventually changed to otokodate - heroic commoners who stood up to the powerful samurai on behalf of the people. The character are also the subject of a very early 1915 movie Karigane Bushichi.
It is unusual and rare to find the five sheets of a pentaptych in a complete set as issued. Similar to another Kunichika pentaptych of 1863, these bear a striking similarity to Kunisada’s treatment of the same subject from 1862. Here we see five actors in the roles (from a possibly imagined performance) of the five heroic otokodate. They wear the distinctive Benkei checked cloth that was fashionable among young men of the era, their attitudes are recognisably dandyish and they stand against the night time silhouette of the Edo skyline. The colours here are subtle and nocturnal and the woodgrain and the indigo shades give the whole piece this tremendous feeling of the early hours of the morning when the town sleeps.
The five sheets are very fine, early matching impressions with strong woodgrain visible in the night sky. Colour and impression are fine, the condition is very good except some minor rubbing at the base of some of the sheets. All five sheets are unmounted and unbacked.
Each sheet 35.5 x 24.5 cm.