Kunichika, Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900)  Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen, 1882. Oban triptych.

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A terrific triptych from the early 1880’s. Kunichika was cementing his relationship with Ichikawa Danjuro, one that was to last to the end of the century. Kunichika was to become Danjuro’s greatest publicist and together they would maintain the importance of kabuki theatre until their - and ultimately kabuki’s - demise in the last year or so of the nineteenth century. The print is one of several that use the Danjuro crest of three concentric rice measure boxes as a border. This dramatic scene uses one of the most delicate of print techniques in the background, this almost nanga style of painting (an Edo style that derives from traditional Chinese brush painting). The engraver has beautifully translated the quick brushstroke that describes the trees and the printer has unevenly inked the blocks to imitate the ebb and flow of the ink and the different pressure of the brush strokes. Kunichika masterfully sets the figures of the two Sengoku period generals against the ethereal background; the whole composition set within the three rice measure frame of the Ichikawa clan.

The scene is from one of the many (probably terrible) melodramatic plays favoured by Danjuro. Based on historic fact, the battles of Kawanakajima were fought in the Sengoku Period of Japan between Takeda Shingen of Kai Province and Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo Province in the plain of Kawanakajima, in the north of Shinano Province in the mid sixteenth century. There were five battles in all, the fourth culminating in the Uesugi forces reaching the Takeda command post, and one of the most famous single combats in Japanese history ensued. Uesugi Kenshin himself burst into the headquarters, attacking Takeda Shingen who, unprepared for such an event, parried with his signalling fan as best as he could, and held Kenshin off long enough for one of his retainers, Hara Osumi-no-Kami, to spear Kenshin's mount and drive him off.

A terrific triptych, colour and impression are very good, condition is excellent on the whole, some yellowing, some wear.