Kunisada, 69 Stations of the Kisokaido Road 37 - Miyanokoshi

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road #37: Miyanokoshi, 1852. Oban.

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Another Kunisada print from his hugely successful and prolific year of 1852. A terrific portrait of the great kabuki actor, Ichikawa Danjuro VIII playing the bandit, Akatsuki Hoshigoro. In reality, I think that the character is based on the actual bandit, Akatsuki Hoshiemon. Hoshiemon was a famous thief (tozoku) of the Edo period. Born in 1759, he started his career of crime in Osaka. He was imprisoned and was tattooed in jail. He went to Shikoku and worked with a gang of pirates there for a while. He finally settled in Edo, where he took the name of Osakaya Kihachi. He stole some scrap metal and used it as a pledge to borrow some money. He was captured, condemned to death and executed the 16th day of the 8th lunar month of the 4th year of the Bunka era (1807).

No matter… reality has little or nothing to do with kabuki theatre and even less with kabuki theatre woodblock prints! Kunisada places the thief, possibly from an actual if now forgotten kabuki play, in front of the Myojo Cliff on the Kiso River at Miyanokoshi Station (Miyanokoshi, Kisogawa no Myojo-iwa). The landscape is borrowed from Hiroshige’s beautiful rendering of Yui station: the Satta Peak, from the series Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road of 1833. A feature of both Kuniyoshi’s and Kunisada’s Tokaido and Kisokaido Road series was their reliance on Hiroshige for a rough idea of topography. Kunisada especially abused the work that Hiroshige put into travel by lifting whole scenes to act as spurious backgrounds to his actor portraits.

In 1852, Kunisada was commissioned to produce a series on the Tokaido Road using modified versions of the earlier Hiroshige series with actor portraits in the foreground. The prohibition on naming actors in woodblock prints meant that the roles only were identified. The series proved to be so popular that Kunisada quickly conceived of a second series based on the Kisokaido. This very fine series is less well known and scarcer in number than the original Tokaido series.

This is a fine print from the series, especially nice is the bold fish-like print on the kimono, set against a burnished shomenzuri pattern of thunderclouds in the black robes.  The dark sky with its attractive woodgrain pattern is heavily embellished with mica dust.  The elaborate cartouche in the upper right illustrates the paraphernalia of the role on the kabuki stage. Colour, impression are very fine. Condition is very good barring some scuffing here and there.

Publisher Tsujiokaya Bunsuke (Kinshodo)

Carver: Hori Mino

Signed Toyokuni ga.

35.5 x 25 cm.