Yoshitaki, Bando Hikosaburo and Arashi Rikan in the play Keisei Homare no Ryo-to

Utagawa Yoshitaki (ca 1841 - 1899) Bando Hikozaburo and Arashi Rikan in the play Keisei Homare no Ryo-to, ca. 1850. Deluxe Chuban Diptych.

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Last year we launched a mischievous idea that the 'brocade' prints of the nineteenth century and those great artists that conceived them should be re labelled, 'dekiyo-e'. The phrase refers to the 'sinking world' as opposed to ukiyo's 'floating world'. The naming and the subsequent dismissal of the nineteenth century woodblock prints as decadent has been hard to shift. In most collector’s eyes, these astonishing works of art remain inferior to their pallid eighteenth century forbears. We felt that by renaming we could, in a very twenty-first century way, re-brand!

Too little credit is accorded to the master printers and artists of Edo’s rival city Osaka. If any works at all clearly defy the traditional image of the floating world, then it is surely those of that merchants' city. Osaka was the home of prosperous and cultivated merchants, some of them very wealthy. Many of these men were cultured in the new forms of enlightened education that their prosperity gave them. They formed cliques of enthusiastic theatre groups, sometimes spending very large sums of money to attract the best actors and performers from Edo and they became ardent fans, staging huge processions and displays of wealth in order to usher in the new kabuki season. Some of these men were also accomplished poets, experimenting with new forms of verse that were different to traditional classical writing.

These wealthy men were also the great patrons of the city’s woodblock artists and there grew up there a whole school of artist printmakers with a clearly identifiable style. I would argue that Osaka produced some of the most humane and accomplished actor portraits in Japan of any time… with truly great artists like Hirosada, I would argue that his work bears comparison with anything that the west produced in painting or drawing. Crucially, the fanaticism of the wealthy patrons, and the smaller size of the audiences there meant that prints were produced, (often privately commissioned) in small numbers on the best paper and with every deluxe embellishment that was available. Inks, as in this case, were of the finest quality, and the majority of the the mid-century prints were richly decorated with mica and with metallic inks and fine finishes. This richness spread to Edo in a free exchange of styles, techniques and ideas, cementing the new zeitgeist of the chonin - the middle class - over the redundant values of the aristocracy.

Yoshitaki was perhaps the last of the great Osaka printmakers. This diptych shows three actors fighting beneath a red maple tree at night and is typical of the richness of the Osaka printmakers at their best. Colour, impression and condition are all fine.

37 x 25 cm.