Kunichika, Ichikawa Danjuro as Tadanobu and Nakamura Fukusuke as Shizuka Gozen

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Ichikawa Danjuro as Tadanobu and Nakamura Fukusuke as Shizuka Gozen, c. 1890. Oban triptych.

This lovely triptych by Kunichika reveals his later style of panoramic triptych, designs which became increasingly sparse during the last decade of the nineteenth century. Eschewing the traditional format which placed single figures on each sheet (allowing the three sheets to be sold either as a triptych or singly) Kunichika here allows both figures to occupy the centre sheet leaving the outer two more or less empty.

Here Ichikawa Danjuro (Kunichika’s friend and ally in reviving the flagging fortunes of kabuki) plays the fox spirit Tadanobu, a retainer of the hero Yoshitsune. He rescues Yoshitsune’s lover, Shikuza Gozen from Yoshitsune’s brother Yoritomo. In the popular folk tale and the kabuki play (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees, Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura), all is not as it seems. Tadanobu (later called Genkuro) is an adopted name and the character Danjuro plays is in fact a kitsune - a shape shifting fox-spirit. Late in the play when Tadanobu is challenged he reveals that the Hatsune drum carried by Yoshitsune is made from the skins of his parents who died four hundred years previously. He has taken the form of Tadanobu in order to retrieve the object. At the conclusion, the fox spirit departs dramatically to a flamboyant dance, returning later to defend Yoshitsune once more. As usual with kabuki, near identical stories and roles overlap, as in the tale of Matagoro and his wife.

Kunichika shows the dancing Tadanobu now in his fox form, the actor wearing what appears to be a pantomime fox suit… and Shizuka Gozen celebrating at the conclusion of the dance. Tadanobu holds the relic of his parents' skins in his hands and Gozen, the sword with which she has defended herself from the attentions of Yoritomo.

A fine and rare late Kunichika, the fine painted monochrome of the background is beautifully handled against the polychrome of the figures. Colour, impression and condition are all fine; there is some original offsetting of the sword.

70cm x 35cm.