Kunisada, Saki Sanjuro, Nakamura Karoku and Bando Minosuke in Kitsunebi

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Saki Sanjuro (right), Nakumura Karoku (centre) and Bando Minosuke (left) in the drama Kitsunebi, c 1825. Oban Triptych.

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A very fine and unrecorded Kunisada triptych from early in his career. It probably shows a scene from the dance drama Kitsunebi. Princess Yaegaki is the heroine of the fateful tale Honcho Nijushiko. The story revolves around the feuding Takeda and Uesugi families; Princess Yaegaki is a daughter of the Uesugi family, and her lover, Katsuyori, is the son and heir of the rival Takeda family. During the civil wars of the mid-sixteenth century, the Ashikaga Shogun was assassinated.

The two families called a halt to their feuding so that they could hunt for the murderer. Each family had pledged to kill their family heir if they were unable to find the assassin. The search was unsuccessful. However when the pledges were carried out, a loyal samurai was substituted for Katsuyori, the Takeda heir. Katsuyori entered the Uesugi castle in disguise, intending to recover a magical war helmet that was a Takeda heirloom. Princess Yaegaki’s father secretly recognized Katsuyori and ordered him on a mission where he could be ambushed.

Princess Yaegaki learned of her lover’s danger but was prevented from warning him by an icy lake outside her father’s castle that she was afraid to cross. She prayed to the god of the Suwa shrine who sent a white fox to protect her. As shown in the print, the princess carries a magical horned helmet as she goes to warn her lover and is pursued by a hostile samurai.

I love these early, archaic triptychs, with their 'sumi-brushwork' drawing and the vigorous, brushy lines. There is an urgency to this style which, whilst primitive when compared to ukiyo-e of the 1850’s, is nevertheless haunting, authentic and direct.

A fine print, condition is very good bar a few wormholes to the edges. Colour and impression are very good.

73 x 33.5 cm.