Kunichika, Bando Mitsugoro VI as the Geisha Miyokichi

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Bando Mitsugoro VI as the Geisha Miyokichi, from an untitled series of actor portraits, 1869. Oban.

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Perhaps the high point of ukiyo-e design of the nineteenth century are the very few and unique series of okubi-e produced by Kunisada  in 1863, Yoshitora  in 1862 and Kunichika, in this series from 1869 and in the same format that he returned to in 1873. It is customary to compare these prints to those of Utamaro and Sharuku who worked in a similar format, one which was banned for fifty years for being too adulatory. I think in fact that these outstanding designs owe considerably more to the actor portraits of Hirosada and other Osaka artists from the 1840’s. There was a great deal of collaboration between the Utagawa artists and their Osaka colleagues in the 1830’s and even though Kunisada affected to despise the rival style, it was clearly a massive influence on these overbearing bust portraits.

It is a vital and ourageous style of portraiture. The heads burst from the confines of the frame. Lines and expressions are hugely exaggerated, the colours are bold and defiant of conventional taste and the drawing is sparse and economical as in the smaller format masterpieces of Hirosada.

The play Hachiman Matsuri Yomiya no Nigiwai, tells the story of the geisha Miyokichi and her love for a disgraced samurai, Shinzaburo. She is in turn loved by the merchant Shinsuke who rescues her from drowning and in gratitude Miyokichi agrees to wed him. When Shinsuke returns with money to buy her contract which he has raised from selling his business, she tells him that she no longer wishes to see him. In shock, Shinsuke uses the money to buy a sword which he then uses in a random killing spree, eventually killing Miyokichi herself. Finally, Shinsuke discovers that Miyokichi is in fact his long lost sister - tragedy indeed.

A great print, full size, fine impression, colour and condition. The print bursts with character and vitality, and is from one of Kunichika’s finest series.

Publisher Gusokuya Kahei.

24cm x 36cm.