Kunichika, The Treasury of Loyal Retainers - Ichimura Kakitsu as Hayano Kanpei

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) The Treasury of the Loyal Retainers (The Chushingura): Ichimura Kakitsu as Hayano Kanpei, 1866. Oban.

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A very nice Edo portrait of the actor Ichimura Kakitsu.  It is a picture of one of the rebellious and leaderless samurai from the play and true story of The Chushingura. The great revenge drama of Japanese theatre - the Kanadehon Chushingura of 1848 - is the stage dramatisation of a real incident that occurred in 1702. Because of the stringent censorship at the time, preventing the portrayal of recent events, the setting and many of the characters have been transposed to the fifteenth century. Hence the subject of the play - the enforced suicide of feudal Lord Asano of Ako and the revenge of 47 of his now redundant retainers (ronin) - becomes the suicide of Lord Enya Hangen, a character borrowed from another story and embroidered to fit the role. Of course, theatre audiences and the disenchanted Edo towns people would have have known all of this and to emphasise the point, actors and artists were comfortable to use the Asano family crest on their cobbled together stage persona.

The most famous series of prints (and the definitive one) is really Kuniyoshi’s series of 1847, The Faithful Samurai. This epic single portrait series was massively successful, and set in train any number of series by other artists of which this very rare series by Kunichika is maybe the last in an illustrious line. Kuniyoshi’s masterwork was an historic account - in as much as there is a speculative written history on each sheet. Kunichika’s 1866 series is in a similar tradition: the figures of the actors and a description of their role links all of the different prints and they are set within a border that is decorated with the Asano clan crest of crossed feathers. The Chushingura, relentlessly performed, frequently the subject of whole print series from many artists, is key to understanding the 'dekiyo-e' of the nineteenth century. It is a play that turns the role of the samurai in society upon its head. It is a story of rebellion, insurrection and doing the wrong thing. It is not an emblem of the 'floating world', of the status quo; it is an emblem of discontent and of change.

This print, early in the long career of Kunichika, is full size. Colour, condition and impression are all good.

36 x 25 cm.