Kuniyasu, Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Matsuomaru in Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami

Utagawa Kuniyasu (1794 - 1832) Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Matsuomaru in Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami, 1828. Oban triptych.

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This stunning print is by the artist Utagawa Kuniyasu. Kuniyasu was a fellow pupil of Kuniyoshi and Kunisada under the great artist and teacher Toyokuni I. He is less well known and nowhere near as prolific as his colleagues but is nevertheless very highly regarded these days. His prints (especially complete triptychs) are rare and fetch high prices. This piece from 1828 shows very clearly the influence of the Utagawa School and the drawing style of Toyokuni - at this time the work of Kunisada and Kuniyasu are fairly indistinguishable. Kuniyasu would go on to become famous for single sheet portrayals of well known beauties.

The composition astonishes… the great decorated and black painted wagon dominates the scene, stretching across three sheets and dwarfing the players. It is a masterpiece of boldness and complex decorative interplay, the brightly patterned fabrics and the spokes and traces of the carriage weaving their way across the design. The scene is from the famous story of Matsuomaru, the retainer who has to witness the decapitation of his son at the village school and pass the severed head off as another's child.

This scene is from the famous act three of the play, before the horrors of the village school scene. Kabuki 21 describe the action as follows:

"The Struggle for the Carriage" (Kuruma-biki) Scene brings together the triplets for the first time. Sakuramaru and Umeomaru, dispossessed of their masters (Tokiyo and Sugawara) and consequently unemployed, encounter Matsuomaru, retainer of Shihei, the cause of their plight. In order to represent the differences between the triplets, each acts in a different style (Sakuramaru — the weak, romantic; Umeomaru — the hero; and Matsuomaru — the villain), and each wears a distinctive costume with the sleeve bearing his flower emblem (cherry, plum, or pine) and makeup that indicates his role. Sakuramaru and Umeomaru attack Matsuomaru for his loyalty to his master and, when Shihei's carriage arrives, pull apart the carriage. Shihei, in ceremonial court attire, long wig, and blue makeup, which denotes his role as an evil noble, emerges and glowers with malevolence from the top of the carriage. Terror-struck, Sakuramaru and Umeomaru agree to settle differences with Matsuomaru at Sugawara's forthcoming birthday celebration.

The actors are, from left: Onoe Kikugoro, Seki Sanjuro and Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Matsuomaru far right. Excellent colour, impression and condition, except some scattered wormage, to be expected on a  print of this age.

Published by Matsumura Tatsuemon.

74 x 36 cm.