Kunisada, Matches for Six Selected Flowers - Begonia

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Nakamura Shikan IV from the series Matches for Six Selected Flowers (Mitate rokkasen): Begonia, c 1863. Oban.

A terrific print, so bold and so assertive is the drawing; and a strangely apt companion to the adjacent mitate by Kunichika which also uses the Benkei Check pattern as a grid-like background framework in which to anchor the figure. There are a lot of references and in jokes to untangle in this piece. It comes towards the end of Kunisada’s fruitful career - these late prints are consistently some of his very best - and it is a sly reference to what has become a more or less defunct state prohibition on actor portraits. Mitate are puzzle pictures, like cryptic crosswords; the knowing viewer is expected to work out the various allusions and whilst the genre derives from 17th century poetry, it was a useful way around censorship in the mid nineteenth century.

In this piece, the actor Nakamura Shikan IV stands in front of a Benkei Check patterned cloth. The material, sometimes called Benkei jima is named after the great fighting hero of the same name. The actor is shown tattooed like a street fighter, hence the material which was favoured by gangs. But he is being compared to the Begonia which shares a similar name to him (Shukaido) and one of his poems shares the cartouche with the flower. The great kabuki actors of the  stage were often called the "Flowers of Edo".

A fine and bold print, full size with fantastic colour and in fine condition.
Publisher: Iseya Kanekichi.

36.9 x 25.1 cm.