Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road #39: Agematsu, 1852. Oban.
A very lovely print from one of Kuniyoshi’s outstanding series, The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road. There was a frenzy of travel-based print series around the mid-century, initially as artists tried to avoid the censorship that hampered their work, but later series enjoyed playing with the idea of dividing series up in this narrative format. In this great series, Kuniyoshi takes the 69 rest stations along the inland highway that connects Kyoto with Edo (Tokyo). The coastal route was the Tokaido Road. Instead of using actors as subjects, Kuniyoshi here used historic or legendary figures that may have had a connection with the relevant village or station.
I like very much the mystery and poetry in the obscure symbolism of this print. The print shows a young retainer, Genzo, up a pine tree acting as lookout for his master, the twelfth century general Minamoto Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune had fallen out with his brother, Minamoto Yoritomo. Yoritomo has sent assassins to kill Yoshitsune in the guise of pilgrims, visible in the bottom of the print by the lanterns that they are carrying (the orange blobs). Genzo sees through the disguise and raises the alarm, saving his master and dying in the process at age 25. We know all this from the Chronicles of Yoshitsune, but in that story, Genzo is visiting his girlfriend in a brothel. It does not mention the tree, the lookout or the garden in which Kuniyoshi has set the action. The garden setting is alluded to by the lantern, basin and other small items in the series cartouche on the right. The kanji above Genzo is that of Ursa Major and the landscape is in a cartouche shaped like the head of an oni demon. The conflation of the two kanji when read in this order form the character 'sakigake' meaning 'first, foremost, finest'. Kuniyoshi has used the mitate form to build the story of the young hero and his sacrifice.
The print is trimmed to the image, otherwise the colour, condition and impression are all fine.
Published by Yawataya Sakujiro.
35 x 24 cm.