Kunichika, Act II from Travelling Alone to the 53 Stations

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Act II From the Play Travelling Alone to the Fifty-three Stations, Early 1860’s. Oban triptych.

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A very fine and very early Kunichika triptych in great condition and completely unknown as far as I can determine. Early Kunichika prints are very sought after and this is a very fine example. The print does not at first appear to be a theatre piece at a ll. It bears all the hall marks of a musha-e, a warrior print. Prints from the mid-century tend to occlude the distinction between actors on a stage apron and scenes from real life - in a way, kabuki merged the distinctions between art and life and for many audiences that endured the day-long kabuki performances, life must have felt more lived within, rather than outside, the theatre.

The play, and book that inspired it, is a wildly popular comedy about feuding families and conflict along the Tokaido Road. It is over twenty acts long, with an immensely complex plot. Suffice to say, that the part that the print is representing concerns the theft and recovery of family heirlooms. Kabuki 21,  summarises the whole play very succinctly on their terrific website.

Kunichika reveals the influence of his teacher, Kunisada, in the drawing and design of the print, especially in the face of the central character. The print is full of action and there is a comic element to the piece. Kunichika successfully conveys the chaotic stage fight of the two rival gangs, fighting underneath the Hakone waterfall.

A fine, and as far as I can tell, unique triptych.  This print forms an exciting bridge between the highly technical ukiyo-e of the first half of the 19th Century and the broader, freer style of the second half. Many of these figures, particularly the hairy and grimacing faces, are borrowed from Kuniyoshi and yet the overall quality is uniquely Kunichika's. An outstanding print, colour, impression are all fine. Full size on each sheet.

77 x 38 cm.