Kuniaki II, Spring Colours - Lion Dancers at a Mansion

Utagawa Kuniaki II (active 1835 - 1888) Spring Colours: Lion Dancers at a Mansion, 1861. Oban triptych.

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This is a very beautiful print by one of Kuniyoshi’s most outstanding pupils. It is a picture of spring… the blossoms, the seasonal dancers who have come to visit the wealthy owners and the Hiroshige-inspired landscape beyond. There is spring also in the women who accompany the Prince Genji figure of the man on the left sheet. There is every chance that this is a Genji themed print, so closely does the figure and the composition echo Kuniyoshi’s prints of that subject. Japanese lions dance at least twice a year—once in January, the official calendar New Year and again during Sakura — Cherry Blossom Season. The Japanese call the lion dance shishi-mai or shiahi-odori. Japan adapted the lion dance from China in ancient times, no one knows quite when, but it mimics the Chinese version in almost every respect.

Henri Joly has an entry on the lion in Japanese legend under entry 425:

KARASHISHI; Buddhist stone lions of Chinese origin, freely scattered about the gardens or placed at the gates of temples, like the Koma Inn. They are characterised by their fierce expression, large eyes and curly mane, their bushy tail and curly locks of hair on the legs. They show traces of the influence upon their first designer of the curly dogs which are the pride of the Chinese Imperial family. Karashishis are an ever-recurring subject in art treatment, with the regal peonies, or with the sacred jewel, which often takes the shape of an intricate ball…

…Shishi masks are worn in the dance named Kappore, Dai Kagura lion dance, and also by new year dancers, under the name of Shishi mai. Such performers are often met carved as netsuke, with the lower jaw of the mask movable, disclosing the laughing face of a boy, finished with an exquisite perfection of detail. There are shishis with one or even two horns, partaking of the appearance of the Kirin or carrying the Tama on the head.

The colour and condition of the print are outstandingly good. The drawing and composition are first rate and the rendering of the lion dancers is superb.

Kuniaki was a pupil of Kunisada, as is evident in the style of the prints. He is most famous in the west though as the artist whose print of The Wrestler Onaruto Nadaemon of Awa Province is pictured in the background of Manet's 1868 portrait of Emile Zola.

Published by Kiya Sojiro.

72cm x 36cm.