Hirosada, Nakamura Utaemon IV as Sato Masakiyo

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) The Actor Nakamura Utaemon IV as Sato Masakiyo, 1851. Deluxe Chuban.

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A fine chuban deluxe portrait of the actor Nakamura Utaemon IV as Kato Masakiyo from the play Hachijin Shugo no Honjo. The character here is in reality, Kato Kiyomasa, also called Toranosuke, a Japanese daimyo. He was born in 1562 and was a relative of Hideyoshi, whose service Kato Kiyomasa entered upon reaching manhood and soon distinguished himself in battle. Upon Hideyoshi’s death in 1598, Kiyomasa returned to Japan and aided Tokugawa Ieyasui. For his services, he received the Castle of Kumamoto as his provincial residence. He also brutally suppressed Christianity in Kyushu. In his later years, he tried to work as a mediator for the increasingly complicated relationship between Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyori. In 1611, en route by sea to Kumamoto, he fell ill, and died shortly after his arrival. It was rumoured that he was poisoned by Tokugawa Ieyasu. He became, under the thinly disguised name of Sato Masakiyo, the hero of many kabuki dramas, the most famous one being Hachijin Shugo no Honjo.  In order to avoid the Shogunate censorship, the identity of all historical characters were disguised (more or less lightly).

Hirosada does a fine job here of showing the medieval daimyo in his grimness, staring fixedly to the right of the print. It’s the composition here that is so impressive… the left hand margin is reinforced by the aggressive vertical of the upright sword… the strength of the sitter reaffirmed by the strong grip on the handle. The calligraphy of the right hand strip is boldly backed up by the upright device of plain colour which is so modern and daring. A further black rectangle broods solemnly over the portrait which is in reality, hemmed in on all sides by these blocks of abstract colour. The face of Kiyomasa is reduced to a device… competing still further with the geometric purity of the hollow circles and the aggression of the stylised storm clouds on the kimono. Its a masterpiece of design… the more I look at it, handle it, the more convinced I am of Hirosada’s great genius. Had a Western artist of any similar time used these kinds of inventive picture-making devices they would latterly be called ‘the founder of modernism’ or some such. Hirosada remains languishing in the backwaters. A genius, barely recognised by his own culture, dismissed by connoisseurs and scholars and ignored to the extent that works such as this can be obtained for just a few hundred dollars.

Nevertheless, the work speaks for itself… a piece of outstanding brilliance. Colour and condition are all fine.

25 x 18.5 cm.