Kuniyoshi, A Comparison of the Ogura 100 Poets 38 - Shunkan

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets #38: Shunkan, 1847. Oban

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We are showing three prints from the very famous print series A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets, sometimes known as the Hundred Poets Compared. This series of 100 prints is one of the outstanding achievements of woodblock printing in Japan in the nineteenth century. Commissioned by the publisher Ibaya Senzaburo in 1845, the series is the joint work of Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige and Kunisada - the three outstanding woodblock artists of the age. The prints in the series are beautifully composed, drawn and printed and they exhibit a remarkable conformity of style. The edition was one in a long line of anthologies which gathered together the canon of great poetry going back to the eighth century. Whilst there had been previous attempts by artists to anthologise and illustrate the great poems, notably by Hokusai, and Kuniyoshi himself, this was the first major work to be completed.

The poems themselves were gathered together by the scholar Fujiwara no Teika in 1235. It is presumed that these poems were taken from a commission that resulted in the pieces being written out by hand by Teika and glued to the doors of his villa in the shadow of Mount Ogura - hence the name of the series. Some of these fragments still exist in museums in Japan. One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, became the standard textbook for Japanese poetry for centuries to come. The poems themselves are in the Tanka style, that is, five lines of five, seven, five, seven and seven syllables - different to the more familiar Haiku popular today. The prints are mitate - pictures that allude via analogy to the subject of the print. In this way, the publisher challenged the reader to find the meaning of the pictures within the visual clues of the print.

What a great print this is. It shows the tragic Abbot, Shunkan who has been exiled by Taira no Kiyomori waving to the departing boat that takes his co-conspirators who have been pardoned and his own wife, back to Japan. He is left alone on a remote island to go mad with destitution because he quarrelled with the Shogun’s envoy and killed him, negating his own pardon. Kuniyoshi depicts the departing ship and Shungan’s grief stricken figure, the mooring rope lying abandoned at his feet.

The poem reads:

Forgotten by him,
I do not think of myself.
But I can’t help worrying
about the life of the man who
swore so fervently before the Gods!

Confusingly, Kuniyoshi illustrated an almost identical scene of banishment in a similar series that illustrates one hundred great poems, The Hundred Poets Part One #11: Sangi Takamura, made around five years earlier.

A very fine print, fine impression from the first edition, very slightly trimmed, colour and condition are all fine.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo.

36 x 24 cm.