Kunisada, Kataoka Nizaemon and Bando Hikosaburo as Yotsuya Samon and Naosuke from Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Kataoka Nizaemon and Bando Hikosaburo as Yotsuya Samon and Naosuke from Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan,  c 1863. Oban.

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This outstanding double actor portrait from one of the most notorious and gruesome plays of kabuki is a real masterpiece of drawing, colour and composition. The orange face of Naosuke set against the ominous midnight blue of the background is a tour-de-force of dramatic portraiture, made more so by Naosuke's deeply incised white locks, embossed into the paper in tight curls. Naosuke’s face hovers between abstract, flat form… pure drawing and vital realism, the woodgrain that has been exaggerated to great effect commands our attention.

The play, Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan is one of the great plays of the kabuki theatre and is well known outside Japan because of the popular images of the tragic and distorted face of the heroine,  Oiwa. Iemon and Oiwa are married.  Iemon is unsatisfied with Oiwa and their baby.  Oume, another woman, is in love with Iemon.  Iemon desires the wealth of Oume and wants to marry her instead. To get Oiwa out of the picture, she (or Iemon depending on the version) sends a poisonous cream to Oiwa, which disfigures half of her face and makes her hair fall out.  Iemon decides to leave Oiwa and forces a masseur named Takuetsu to rape her so that he has a legal reason to divorce Oiwa and marry Oume.  Oiwa tries to fend Takuetsu off with a sword and accidentally punctures her own throat and dies, cursing Iemon’s name. Iemon  dumps his wife’s body in the river and the death is deemed a suicide. The horribly disfigured Oiwa returns to haunt Iemon and his new bride Oume.

Kunisada pictures two lesser characters in the complex and long kabuki drama, Yotsuya Samon, Iemon’s father-in-law, who urges him to separate from Oiwa and soon afterwards is killed by him; and Naosuke, a hawker of medicine who lusts for Osode, the sister of Oiwa and the wife of Sato Yomoshichi. Both characters (especially Naosuke) have important parts in the play.

A great print from Kunisada’s best period - the last years of his life. Colour, condition and impression are all fine.

36cm x 25cm.