Hirosada, Kataoka Gado II and Onoe Tamizo II in Kagamiyama Sugata no Utsushie

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Kataoka Gado II as Taga no Taishu, (on horseback) and Onoe Tamizo II as Torii Matasuke in the play Kagamiyama Sugata no Utsushie, 1852. Deluxe Chuban Diptych.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

This is such a dramatic and strangely contrived print, full of wonderful design innovation. It is a curious and taken for granted affair, that we imagine these treasure boxes… these masterpieces in miniature to be accurate illustrations of the kabuki theatre. Of course, they are nothing of the sort. Ukiyo-e theatre prints are a hybrid… a fabulous new thing that emerged from the conventions and the restrictions of an inflexible art form - the woodblock. Photographs of early twentieth century kabuki (or modern kabuki for that matter), show a dreary affair of quite tasteless performances, tacky, sometimes tawdry and somehow drab in their presentations. The prints that purport to illustrate them are quite different… jewel-like, treasure boxes of colour, form and design. Brilliant masterpieces of drawing and inherently abstract affairs whereby theatrical effects and imaginative interpretations combine to make a new thing which has little to do, frankly with the actual performance. Of course, this might not be so surprising since producers  and publishers then like now, wanted the best ‘spin’ on their advertising and P.R. This print seems like an enamel brooch - the space here compromised to the design. The river flows uphill, the horseman is too big and he rides on the same plane as the figure on the shore, but somehow it all fits together, like an enamel, and just ‘feels right’. In reality, the man on the horse would have been on some kind of pantomime creation and would have looked quite ridiculous to our eyes… there is still a hint of the ‘hobby-horse costume’ about him isn’t there?

The print shows a tragic figure called Torii Matasuke, on the shore and the man he is about to murder by decapitation on the horse. The play, Stories Heard in the Pleasure Quarter at Mirror Mountain, is based on real events. In it, Torii Matasuke is the loyal retainer of Lord Yasuda of Taga, (Taga no Taishu), but he is tricked by the evil Mochizuki Genzo into thinking that Lord Yasuda, who is crossing the river, is a villain. Matasuke, swims out and kills his master, unaware of the subterfuge. Hirosada shows Matasuke drawing his sword in preparation of his assault.

A great print, an original and striking design, this is one of the more famous of Hirosada’s prints. Fine colour, impression and condition.

 Each sheet 25cm x 18cm.

Illustrated in Ikeda Bunko, Kamigata yakusha-e shūsei (Collected Kamigata Actor Prints), vol. 4, 2003, #488.