Kuniyoshi, The 100 Poets Part One 11 - Sangi Takamura

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The Hundred Poets Part One #11: Sangi Takamura, 1840 - 42. Oban.

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A rare and truly outstanding Kuniyoshi print. The design of the boat and the rough sea is easily the finest in this excellent series and one of Kuniyoshi’s really great designs. The colour and impression on this piece are really very fine and one derives a sense of the fullness of the sails and the depth of the swell and the strength of the offshore wind from the fluttering pennants and the muscularity of the oarsman in the foreground, fighting the current. Again, only nominally about poetry, this is a seascape - Kuniyoshi here glories in the design and the confidence of the swooping, arching lines and the steeply vanishing perspective.

The One Hundred Poets series, Hyaku-nin isshu, is an anthology of 100 poems by 100 different poets compiled in the thirteenth-century by the critic and poet Fujiwara no Sadaie (also known as Teika).  The poems are all five-line poems of 31 syllables arranged as 5, 7, 5, 7 and 7.  This form was known as waka and is now known as tanka.  The 100 poets are in approximately chronological order from the seventh through the thirteenth centuries.  The number associated with each poet appears in the margin of most of the prints, with a few incorrectly numbered.  Some of the prints portray the poets, and some show scenes associated with their lives or poetry.  The poem and some descriptive text appear on each print in the broad rectangular cartouche.

This print depicts a poem by Ono no Takamura (802-852), a personal counsellor to the emperor. When Takamura's mission to China as ambassador failed because of a typhoon, he was criticized and exiled to one of the Eighty Islands. Two years later, he was pardoned and allowed to return to Kyoto. When he left the island, he wrote a farewell poem:

Over the wide sea
Towards its many distant isles
My ship sets sail.
Will the fishing boats thronged here
Proclaim my journey to the world?

Kuniyoshi here shows the small thronged boats with the sturdy fishermen and the imperious boat sailing away from the viewer. The boat itself is a version of similar drawings by other ukiyo artists; the fishermen though are clearly derived from Hiroshige, especially prints such as the series Kyoto Meisho no uchi, from 1834, where similar oarsman with the same distinctive Hiroshige face are so numerous.

Just a really great print. The colours here are as bright as when they were published, the impression is crisp, and aside from the trimmed border, the condition is also very fine.

Published by Ebisu.

36cm x 24cm.