Toyohara Kunichika Memorial Portrait of the Artist Utagawa Kunisada

Toyohara Kunichika, 1835-1900

Memorial Portrait of the Artist Utagawa Kunisada
(Utagawa Kunisada shini-e)

signed at lower right corner of the right-hand sheet, Monjin (pupil) Ichiosai Kunichika Kimpitsu (respectfully), with artist's seal, Kunichika, dated in the upper right corner, Genji gen kinoene-nen junigatsu jugo ka jaku (first year of Genji, cyclical date 'elder brother wood', year of the rat [1864], 12th lunar month, 15th day), dated again in the censor's seal, Ne-juni aratame (year of the rat [1864], 12th month, examined), with carver's seal, Matsushima Hori Masa (Matsushima Masayoshi), and publisher's seal, Sho Kinshodo (Ebisuya Shoshichi of Kinshodo), ca. 1864

oban tate-e diptych 14 1/4 by 19 5/8 in., 36.2 by 49.7 cm

This shini-e (memorial portrait) of Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865), designed by one of his most-successful students, Kunichika, and accompanied by an obituary written by the popular writer Kanagaki Robun (1829-94), is an unusually lavish tribute for an artist. While most artists of note were honored with woodblock printed shini-e, the diptych format with lengthy text by a leading writer is on a scale normally reserved for the most beloved of the kabuki stars and is indicative of the stature which Kunisada achieved in his own time.

The print was issued in January of 1865 (12th lunar month of the year of the rat) at the time of Kunisada's Buddhist memorial service. Kunichika illustrates the artist seated on a cushion at desk, wearing an elegant outer-robe decorated with butterflies and finished with tassles. He holds a tobacco pipe in his right hand while leaning back contemplatively--as though he were taking in the poetry floating above him and the adoring text before him. His table is set with the necessary accoutrements for artistic production including a small ream of paper held in place with a weight, two brushes on a brush rest, an ink cake, ink stone, and a container of water for peparing the ink. To his right a blue and white porcelain container decorated with his circular Toshidama crest is filled with additional brushes, a bamboo basket holds rolls of paper, and a caddy contains jars of pigment and more paper.

On the right-hand sheet the obituary written by Robun includes details regarding the location of Kunisada's grave. Reading from the text at upper right, Toyokuni-in teishoga senshin daikoji (Kunishika's posthumous Buddhist name), Tendaishu Komyoji sou (buried in the Komyoji temple of the Tendai sect in Kameido), nidaime Ichiyosai Utagawa Toyokuni ou (the old man Ichiyosai Utagawa Toyokuni ll), kounen nanajukyusai (his death at the age of seventy-nine). Robun identifies Kunisada as a student of the famous ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825) who achieved the honor of inheriting his teacher's name as Toyokuni ll (known today as Toyokuni lll). The left-hand sheet continues with Robun's signature, Kanagaki Robun shi, and his seal, Bun, followed by several poems above the portrait by his leading Utagawa school students, including Ichijusai Kunisada (Kunisada II, 1823-80), Ichiunsai Kunisada (Kunihisa ll, 1832-91), and Ichiosai Kunichika (Kunichika, 1835-1900). The text concludes with Kunisada's own death poem:

Ikko ni
Mida e makaseshi
ki no yasusa
tada nanigoto mo
Namu Amida Butsu!

I have entrusted
everything to Mida,
my soul is at ease
no matter what happens -
Homage to Amida Buddha!


He signed the poem with his age at his death, Nanajukyu ou Toyokuni rojin (At the age of seventy-nine, the old man Toyokuni).

References:
Laura Mueller, Competition and Collaboration: Japanese Prints of the Utagawa School, 2007, cat. 193, p. 203 (poem translation)
Amy Reigle Newland, Time Present and Time Past: Images of a Forgotten Master: Toyohara Kunichika, 1999, pp. 11-13, cat. no. 5
Sebastian Izzard, Kunisada's World, 1993, cat. 100, p. 189
Brooklyn Museum (www.brooklynmuseum.org), accession no. 16.750.1
(inv. no. 10-5072)

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