Kunichika, Sawamura Tanosuke as Princess Kiyo in the Play Hidakagawa

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Sawamura Tanosuke as Kiyo in the Play Hidakagawa, 1869. Oban triptych.

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What a fabulous triptych this is. Against the stunning background of royal blue, deeply marked with woodgrain for decorative effect,  three characters act out the climactic scene of Hidakagawa Iria Zakura. Sawamura Tanosuke as the lovelorn Princess Kiyo is in the act of turning into a snake in the centre, with the hapless boatman, Gou jyaku so on the left and the object of her obsession, Anchin, on the right. The corded belt rises above them with a serpent’s face.

This is a play about women and men’s growing sexual anxiety at the approaching social upheaval of the 1860’s. Prince Sakuragi, disguises himself as a monk, Anchin. Arriving at a village, the princess Kiyo falls desperately in love with him and, resisting her advances, Anchin flees across the river, commanding the ferryman not to let her follow by refusing passage. Kiyo is so consumed with jealous rage that she transforms into a gigantic snake and dives into the river in pursuit. It is a custom in Kabuki to perform the role of Princess Kiyo in ningyoburi (a way of acting as if the actor were a puppet). He is assisted by a black-hooded manipulator. The boatman is also played as a puppet, with comical thick eyebrows.

A terrific print, in fine condition, an early impression with strong woodgrain. Embossing to Princess Kiyo's collar. The subtle use of blue for the right hand character, set against the blue background is especially skillful.

70 x 35.5 cm.