Kunisada (Toyokuni III)

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)


Umeyashiki Plum Garden [at Kameido]

each sheet signed Kochoro Kunisada ga, with censor's seal kiwame, publisher's seal To (Yamaguchiya Tobei of Kinkodo), ca. 1830-35

oban tate-e triptych 14 7/8 by 29 7/8 in., 37.7 by 75.9 cm

Three beauties pass beneath blossoming trees during an evening outing for hanami ('flower viewing'). Red lanterns identify the location in kanji read from right to left, ume-ya-shiki (lit. 'plum mansion'), the scenic Umeyashiki plum gardens at Kameido shrine, a popular destination in early spring. The figure on the right wears a subdued black kosode and purple inner robe with matching butterfly patterns near the hem, paired with a brown obi decorated with circular dragon roundels. She accompanies a younger beauty in the center sheet wearing a youthful purple kimono decorated with chidori (plovers) at the hem and an ornate dark green obi decorated with alternating floral bands. They are followed by figure to the left wearing a reserved dark green kimono with a subtle pattern of grey archaic seals, a simple purple obi with a white resist hanabishi (water chestnut) pattern, and blue sash tied at the hip securing a grey apron with green stripes. She carries a white furoshiki with takekawa (bamboo skin) bundles of food wrapped for a picnic.

Although this rare triptych appears to be an image of beautiful women, their faces have distinctive features in the manner of actor portraits, and each figure is accompanied by text and visual cues referencing specific actors and/or their yago ('house name' or guild). Beloved kabuki actors were tastemakers and style icons of their time, inspiring fashion and beauty trends by what they wore on and off the stage. As true celebrities, they were a frequent subject of woodlblock prints, and due to various government regulations that forbade portraits of actors, fans were accustomed to images that did not explcitly identify individual actors by name. Reading innuendos, clues, and wordplay was integral to kabuki visual culture, and the way that artists such as Kunisada depicted facial features had an influence on changing concepts of idealized beauty for men and women. As such, this print may have been recognizable as portraits of popular actors out on the town (possibly from an unidentified play), or meant to suggest that the beauties represent a 'type' associated with specific actors.

The right sheet is labeled Tosei Miyoshiya fu (Modern Miyoshiya style), referencing the Miyoshiya yago. With a noticeably long face, prominent chin, pointy nose, and wide double-lidded eyes, the features are similar to depictions of Ichikawa Danzo VI (1800-1871), a disciple of the famous Ichikawa Danjuro VII (1791-1859) who was able to play male and female roles, including the famous courtesan Akoya (considered one of the most challenging female roles) and who was indeed a member of Miyoshiya yago.

The middle sheet is labeled Tosei Kakitsu fu (Modern Kakitsu style), alluding to Ichimura Takenojo V (1812-1851), also known as Ichimura Kakitsu III in reference to his poetry name, Kakitsu. The mon (crest) on the figure's kimono is a combination of a crane (tsuru) and wild orange, (tachibana), which is also alternate reading of the kanji 'kitsu' and the name of the actor's yago, Tachibana-ya. Portraits consistently depicted the actor, even late into his career, with a sweet, wide-eyed expression and a delicate mouth nearly always hinting at a smile.

The left sheet is labeled Tosei Narikomaya fu (Modern Narikomaya style), referencing the yago Narikomaya. The somewhat severe, long face with pointed nose and underbite is similar to portraits of Nakamura Utaemon IV (1796-1852), a kabuki star who was a talented dancer and able to perform a wide variety of male or female roles. The kageya e uraume ('shadow' or reverse plum) mon on the figure's green kimono is associated with Narikomaya, a yago established by Utaemon.

Andreas Marks, Kunisada's Tokaido: Riddles in Japanese Woodblock Prints, 2013, p. 132, cat. T63-16 (Ichikawa Danzo VI); p. 140, cat. T63-31 (Ichimura Takenojo V); p. 149, cat. T63-39 (Nakamura Utaemon IV)
Kokin Haiyu Nigao Taisen, The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University, 1998, p. 147, no. 71 (Ichikawa Danzo VI); p. 156, no. 99 (Ichimura Takenojo V); p. 192, no. 206 (Nakamura Utaemon IV)
Aubrey S. & Giovanna M. Halford, The Kabuki Handbook, 1956, p. 199 (Narikomaya's crest)
kabuki21.com (Ichikawa Danzo VI; Ichimura Takenojo V; Nakamura Utaemon IV)

(inv. no. 10-5385)

price: $2,800

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)
Kunisada details: Nakamura Utaemon IV, 1838 (Scholten); Ichimura Takenojo V, ca. 1838-40 (Waseda); Ichikawa Danzo VI, ca. 1856 (MFA, Boston)

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)
detail middle sheet


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site last updated
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