Kunisada, Actors at the 53 Stations of the Tokaido Road - Gonpachi

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Actors at the Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road: Gonpachi, 1860. Oban.

This is the outstanding design from a little known Tokaido Road series of 1860. The series was done in collaboration with Kyosai who did various background scenes; Kunisada was nearing the end of his life and was yet phenomenally productive during the period 1858-62. The quality of his designs and the standard of the production that he was able to command were extremely high, as in the superb drawing and gruesome characterisation of Gonpachi’s suicide.

Gonpachi was a Ronin - a leaderless samurai and street tough. He rescues a girl from the inn of some bandits in return for her warning him that he is to be robbed that night. Later, in the Yoshiwara district he finds the same girl, the daughter of humble grocers, now working as a prostitute in order to keep her elderly parents. Gonpachi,  unable to help her this time, turns to crime and the play shows how he loses his chivalrous spirit and becomes a murderer - robbing for money to visit the brothel where he sees his lover. Unable to live with himself he commits suicide.

This is a great, dramatic print and easily the best in this series. The whole design brims with action: the figure, the water and the great hand-applied splash of blood that spurts across the lower portion of the image. The dark landscape in the background is in fact a large cartouche following the position of the title block on the right hand side of the design. The scene is presumably the Yoshiwara, the place of Gonpachi’s tragedy.

The series is very little known, though I note the image (from the British Museum) is surprisingly popular as a source for merchandise of various kinds. The colour and impression are very fine. Condition is fine excepting some fritting to the edges.

25cm x 35cm.