Kunichika, Flowers of Edo - A Series of Chivalrous Men - Ichikawa Kodanji IV

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900)  Flowers of Edo: A Series of Chivalrous Men (Edo no hana Isami zoroi): Ichikawa Kodanji IV, 1865. Oban.

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The phrase "flowers of edo" (edo no hana) was an ironic and popular saying in the eighteenth and nineteenth century to describe the devastating fires that ravaged Edo (Tokyo) with horrifying frequency.   The phrase spread further than the allusions to the great fires and the prevalence of flowering trees. It became common to refer to both ukiyo-e artists and kabuki actors as the "Flowers of Edo".  This of course leads to immense confusion with the distance of time. In this print, which is almost a companion of the Kunisada print that precedes it, and made only two years later, Kunichika shows the actor Ichikawa Kodanji IV dressed as an Otokodate. The Otokodate was a kind of chivalrous gang member; a cross between the dandy of nineteenth century Europe and a Robin Hood figure… an outlaw with a heart. They were hugely popular, although feared, members of Edo society and formed a great deal of the revered and essential town fire brigades.

Their popularity led to these characters being portrayed in kabuki plays and emulated by actors and other bohemians. This print is from a  series of ten prints that all show the leading actors of the time dressed in this outlaw chic of neckerchief, shaved pate, muscly tattoos and in this case, a threatening toothpick! It’s a great print this, bold and joyously drawn, a rare tattoo print from pretty much the dawn of the period of full arm or torso tattoos.

The piece is in very good condition and it is a fine impression with great, unfaded colour.

Published by Shimizya.

37 x 25 cm.