Hakamadare Yasusuke Approaching Fujiwara no Yasumasa Playing the Flute by Moonlight
with lacquer printing on the central figure's hat and flute, and the black clothing on the other figures; signed Yoshu Chikanobu hitsu with artist' red Toshidama seal, with publisher's seal of Fukuda Kumajiro and dated Meiji jurokunen, gogatsu (Meiji 16 , May)
oban tate-e triptych 14 1/2 by 28 7/8 in., 36.7 by 73.2 cm
This print illustrates a'kabuki scene based on a story about Fujiwara Yasumasa (Hirai Yasumasa, 958-1036) who was a Heian period nobleman and warrior who held several important governing positions and was also renowned as a poet and flautist. In the episode, the bandit Hakamadare Yasusuke (in some versions they are estranged brothers) stalks Yasumasa who is playing his flute while traveling along the Ichihara Moor at night. Yasusuke intends to attack Yasumasa in order to rob him of his resplendant clothing, but he is instead subdued by the nobleman's flute playing.
Variations of this story were incorporated into kabuki dramas throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and were subsequently illustrated in a number of woodblock prints. This print references the Ichiharano no Danmari version of the story first staged at the Ichimuraza in 1822 under the title Ichiharano Tsuki no Nagame. A danmari is a short scene with almost no dialogue in which characters grope in the dark for some sort of treasure. In the danmari for this episode, the encounter in between Yasumasa (center) and Yasusuke (right) takes place in the presence of the beautiful princess Kidomaru (in the inset circular cartouche), with the story guided by the narrator illustrated in the upper left diagonal panel.
The composition relates closely to the famous 'Flute Player Triptych' by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), who had achieved much attention the previous year for his large painting of the subject that was exhibited at the first government Exhibition for the Advancement of the National Painting (Naikoku kaiga kyoshinkai), a design which was quickly adapted into woodblock print format by the publisher Akiyama Buemon. The print version was released in February of 1883 and was wildly successful. A few months later the kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro IX (1838-1903), likely prompted by Yoshitoshi's imagery, included the Ichiharano no Danmari in the drama Seki Konroku Haru no Komagiku staged in April 1883, casting Nakamura Shikan IV (1831-1899) as Hakamadare Yasusuke, Onoe Taganojo II (1849-1899) as Kidomaru, and himself, recognizable here, as Hirai Yasumasa. This print was published the following month.
Although the similarities with Yoshitoshi's composition are striking, by depicting Shikan in the role of Kidomaru in the inset cartouche and prominently featuring the narrator in the upper left, Chikanobu establishes that we are viewing not merely a composition inspired by Yoshitoshi, but an illustration of Danjuro's performance which was inspired by Yoshitoshi.
Legion of Honor, accession no. 1986.1.93
Robert O. Muller Collection, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, accession no. S2003.8.2609
(inv. no. C-3006)
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