Kunichika, Famous Places of Edo - Bando Hikosburo as Igami no Gonta

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Famous Places of Edo: Bando Hikosburo as Igami no Gonta, 1867. Oban.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

Kunichika was Kunisada's outstanding pupil and the best kabuki printmaker of the second half of the nineteenth century.  This print shares so much with the two Kunisada pieces that precede it on this page and still has the jewel-like and luscious quality of the great prints of the 1850's and 1860's.

A fine print from the outstanding 1867 series Famous Places of Edo. This lush print, with its delicious wood grain background and elaborate scenic cartouche depicts the kabuki actor Bando Hikosburo as Igami no Gonta, the dissolute young gambler from the play Yoshitsune Sembon Zakura. Kunichika shows Gonta standing robustly in the foreground holding a broad rice tub in his muscular left arm. There is a masterly use of tone in this series which relies on Kunisada’s innovation of the midnight blue grey background as a foil to the bright spot colours.

The play here is a fictional episode from the great medieval epics that describe the skirmishes between the Heike and the Minamoto clans. This part of the kabuki drama is the famous Act III and is domestic and has nothing really to do with the great warring families of the past. Igami no Gonta is a dissolute young man, banned from his parents' house by his father for gambling. He sneaks in, in order to inveigle his mother into giving him his inheritance to cover gambling debts. She does so, but he sees  his father approach and shoves the gold coins into a rice tub and leaves. His father has with him the severed head of a Heike retainer. On hearing that their house is to be searched, he too dumps the head into another rice container. Gonta returns stealthily to recover his money but - of course - takes the wrong container. What follows is, as always with kabuki, extremely complicated; nevertheless the scene climaxes with the father killing Gonta and Gonta, in a moving speech, declaring that his actions were all motivated by a love of his parent and a desire to prove himself.

Kunichika shows Gonta with one of the comical rice tubs. The cartouche shows a rice and noodle shop in Edo - a reference to where the action takes place in the play. A fine print, the design is very strong and the colour, condition and impression are all fine.

Published by Masudaya Ginjiro.

25cm x 35cm.