Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Thirty-six Good and Evil Beauties: Okane from Ohmi Province, 1876. Oban.
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Thirty-six Good and Evil Beauties is by far Kunichika’s best series. Groundbreaking in so many ways, one gets the feeling that the artist here is being dragged along by events - unable to resist the pull of history. The quality of the printing is outstanding, the drawing is fluid and original and the designs bristle with invention and startling use of colour and pattern. Each print from the series takes a famous woman of history and portrays her beneath a cartouche explaining her story. Some of these characters are warlike, some evil and vain and some are pious or devoted. What is interesting historically is how Kunichika presents women as individuals and not archetypes. This is at variance to the traditional bijin portraits of pliable or available females and chimes with Yoshitoshi’s later series on similar themes such as Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners from 1888.
In this piece, Kunichika represents the strong woman Okane; here she is, wooden basin in one hand, staring distractedly at the departing rear end of a galloping horse. There are two visual references that stand out: firstly, the horse, almost invisible at first glance because of the size of the leg and tail and its peculiar cropping, surely evokes Hiroshige’s experimental work with apparently random framing, especially the print of Shinjuku from the series 100 Famous views of Edo in 1856. Secondly the relationship of the woman to the wooden pail… In Kunisada’s print of Kesa Gozen the heroine is pictured as a typical bijin, compliantly washing her hair prior to her decapitation. Despite its exquisite drawing, the print shows a dutiful woman, traditionally imagined. In the Kunichika, Okane holds the heavy pail, self-possessed, she is an active participant, going about her business.
Okane lived eight hundred years ago. Whilst taking a walk, she was nearly knocked over by a runaway horse. Stepping on its reins she effortlessly restrained the animal and was thereafter famous for her great feats of physical strength.
A very nice print, colour and impression are fine. The print is trimmed at the base and the there are some marks to the surface, otherwise condition is very good.
Published by Morimoto Junzaburo.
24 x 35 cm.