Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Mirror of Sumo Past and Present (Kokon sumo kagami): Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as Akitsushima, 1855. Oban.
This fetching print from a small but nicely designed series of 1855 shows heroes of sumo from well known dramas. Sumo became very popular as a public performance and as a subject for woodblock artists as the political censorship and moral reforms of the failing Tokugawa administration started to take effect. Banned by the goverment from picturing kabuki actors, theatres, plays or any kabuki subjects at all, the artists were obliged to delve into mitate - prints whose real meaning is concealed or alluded to - and other subjects, one of which was sumo wrestling. Sumo became popular as an alternative to the theatre and print artists made many prints and series of prints celebrating these popular heroes. They also, as in this case, used sumo as a means of picturing popular actors in roles that the public might recognise but which would also be allowed by the censor.
In this bold print the actor, Ichikawa Danjuro VIII is shown in the role of Akitsushima probably from the play Sekitori Nidai no Shobuzuke. The plot revolves around a conflicted sumo wrestler who is blackmailed to 'throw' a bout in order to rescue his lover from prostitution - a not uncommon theme from kabuki of the time.
A very nice print; colour, condition and impression are all very good; some minor creasing at the edges. There is a copy of this print in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Published by Otaya Takichi (Hori Takichi).