Kunisada, Bando Mitsugoro III as Kan Shojo in Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Bando Mitsugoro III as Kan Shojo in the Tenpaizan Scene from Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami, 1823. Oban Triptych.

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There's no simple way to describe these 'early' nineteenth century woodblock triptychs and diptychs. They are characterised by an archaism that looks back to the prints of the previous century and yet these wonderful pieces are clearly of the Utagawa School. The prints are distinctive… the sheets are large and the paper slightly coarse and yellow. The inks are mainly vegetable and mineral and without the characteristic chemical dyes that began to predominate even as early as the 1820’s; and there is a bold use of black, often in large areas and to dramatic effect, as in this print where the magically summoned storm clouds swirl in a whirlwind of thick black lines penetrated by orange red bolts of lightening.

The drama portrays a scene in the life of the great diplomat, Sugawara no Michizane (845-903). The play is so confusing because it randomly drags in the story of triplets (current in newspapers when the play was being written), named after  trees, Matsu (Pine), Ume (Plum) and Sakura (Cherry). Sugawara is wrongly accused of treason, exiled but visited by his retainer, Shiratayu and his triplet sons. Sugawara has been dreaming about the trees he left behind when the visitors appear. An assassin is sent from the palace and he attacks one of the triplets, Umeômaru. Sugawara flies into a rage and beheads the assassin with a plum branch. He climbs on top of Mount Tenpai and transforms himself into a God of Thunder… adopting the name Kan Shojo, spitting plum petals from his mouth and turning them into flames. The scene ends here but it is said that Kan Shojo's revengeful spirit rushes to Kyoto to devastate the Imperial Palace there.

In this fine triptych, the play is made explicit. In the background we see Kan Shojo played by Bando Mitsugoro III on a thunder cloud, lightning flashing all around him. The assassin is in the background to the left, played by Ichikawa Danjuro, and and the faithful retainer Shiratayu, is on the right in the background. The clouds that divide the scene indicate a change in the time line, and the scene in the foreground shows a scene from earlier in the play. The print records the staging in 1823 at the Nakamuraza theatre.

The impression is very good, as are the early vegetable colours. The condition is good excepting some visible, scattered worm holes.

74 x 36 cm.