Kunichika, Nakamura Sojuro as Wakasanosuke

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Nakamura Sojuro as Wakasanosuke from Kanadehon Chushingura, 1885. Oban Triptych.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

This Kunichika print shows just how modern his vision was and how great the influence of Japanese prints has been in the development of western art. One reads so much about the boldness of say, Degas, and the way that he would appear arbitrarily to ‘crop’ an image - as if seen randomly or in a photograph. Here is Kunichika in a scene from a kabuki drama doing just that. The boldness of the left hand cropping of the dragon screen is astonishing. In a truly modernist way, the paper screen is both an object and a depiction of that object, flat to the plane of the picture, cutting off the great expanse of Prussian blue behind it. Squeezed out by the monumental bulk of the two actors on the right, the screen nevertheless asserts itself like the zip on a Barnett Newman field painting. Kunichika heightens the pictorial tension by allowing Wakasanosuke’s robe to just interrupt its frame at the bottom of the print.

For me, the print is about the design… it is also the depiction of a scene from one of the many sprawling versions of the Chushingura. There is an earlier series of acts to this dramatic cycle which show the wickedness of Moronao. In the one depicted here, Moronao has attempted to seduce the wife of Wakasanosuke. Wakasanosuke seeks revenge but is dissuaded from doing so. Later in the play, Enya Hangen attacks Moronao for a different slight and the whole revenge tragedy is born. Kunichika shows the determination on the face of Wakasanosuke, (centre) whilst a colleague restrains him with a defensive sword. The dragon on the painted screen is a symbol of Wakasanosuke’s determination and courage.

A really great composition, very fine colour, impression and condition.

71cm x 35cm.