Yoshitaki, Ichikawa Kataoka in Ichi-no-Tani Futaba Gunki

Utagawa Yoshitaki (ca 1841 - 1899) Ichizo Kataoka in act III of the play Ichi-no-Tani Futaba Gunki, 1850. Chuban Tetraptych.

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This is an outstanding Yoshitaki… he has a tendency sometimes to lose his figures in the busyness of the background and his characterisation can tend towards the generic. Not so in this case… this print is a masterly composition, the four sheets nicely joined in a visual loop-the-loop by the billowing Ibaku in the background. The Ibaku are the curtains that were such a familiar sight on the battlefields of early medieval Japan. These were large cloth sheets suspended from ropes and slung between poles to screen off the private areas of the different commanders. When Minamoto Yoritomo set up the first shogunate in 1192 he even named it the Bakufu, or government behind the curtains. They are of course a gift to artists since they were frequently embroidered with the exquisite, decorative and heraldic symbols of the family, called the mon.

The play, Ichi-no-Tani Futaba Gunki is staggeringly complicated and there is insufficient space here to summarise the events. A full synopsis is available at the excellent kabuki21 site. The action takes place in the warring clans period of the twelfth century. The Taira clan and the Minamoto clans are permanently at war: the events are part of the history and mythology of Japan and are recorded in such epics as the Heiki Monogatari. Kabuki and puppet playwrights found a trove of subjects in these stories and wrote long and complex narratives around heroes and warriors that are all but forgotten outside of their bowdlerised versions in contemporary high school manga comics, where great samurai like Yoritomo are reduced to doe-eyed boy-band eye candy.  Eye candy is perhaps for once appropriate since the box on the right hand sheet of this print contains the decapitated remains of one of the most beautiful adolescent boys in kabuki, killed out of duty by his own father.

All that aside, it is a fine ensemble print, the exquisite bokashi shading of the background meeting the loping, decorative ibaku screen and the figures each reacting to the ominous box on the final sheet. As with all Osaka triptychs, the colour and the impression of this outstanding, deluxe print are very fine. A beautiful print.

57cm x 25cm.