Kunisada (Toyokuni III)

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)


A Pictorial Commentary on One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets: no. 12, Sojo Henjo
(Hyakunin isshu esho: Sojo Henjo)

signed Kunisada aratame Nidai Toyokuni ga (Kunisada changing his name to Toyokuni II) with his Toshidama seal, censor's seal Mura (Murata Sahei), followed by the publisher's seal Sanoki (Sanoya Kihei of Kikakudo), ca. 1844-47

oban tate-e 14 1/4 by 9 7/8 in., 36.1 by 25.2 cm

A young beauty turns to look over her shoulder in the direction of a gust of wind while struggling to hold a blue and white tenugui (towel) with a mame-shibori (bean) pattern over her hair and the flaps of her kimono closed. Her furisode (lit. 'swinging sleeves') kimono is decorated with a striking pattern of large bursts of blue and grey tie-dyed stars at scattered maple leaves on a white ground and layered with a red beni-dyed inner kimono visible at the hem and along the openings of her sleeves billowing around her. At her neckline is a white collar with a yellow fundo-tsunagi (traditional weight measure) pattern, and she wears a green sash with a blue geometric sayagata (interlocking 'manji' character) pattern tied at her hip under her back-knotted double-sided obi of blue flowers on a red ground on one side, and dark blue grey with karakusa (scrolling vines) on the other.

This print is from one of Kunisada's largest and most ambitious bijin series which he issued in two formats during a period of transition when he changed his name from Kunisada to Toyokuni. Inspired by the Ogura Hyakunin isshu ('Ogura [district of Kyoto] One Hundred People, One Poem Each'), an anthology of 100 famous waka poems by 100 famous poets compiled by Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241), Kunisada presented beauties paired with images of the famous poets and their poems. For the first 37 designs (plus nos. 47, 78, and 93) published in 1844-45, Kunisada illustrated a title cartouche in the shape of an open scroll and a full-length image of a bijin accompanied by two karuta (cards) for the popular 'concentration' game which utilizes the anthology. The game is played with 200 cards divided into two sets, half are yomifuda (lit. 'reading cards') with an image of the poet with the entire poem (5+7+5+7+7 syllables), the other half were torifuda (lit. 'grabbing cards') with only the last two lines of seven syllables each. A player would read aloud the entire poem from a yomifuda, and the other players compete to grab the corresponding torifuda. While it was not necessary to memorize the poems, sophisticated players were rewarded for their familiarity with the poets and their work.

The poem by Sojo Henjo is presented as the front and back of the torifuda card:

upper card (front):
amatsu kaze
kumo no kayoiji
fuki tojiyo

lower card (back):
tome no sugata
shiba shiba todo memu

O heavenly breeze,
blow so as to block
their path back through the clouds!
For I would, if but for a moment,
detain these maidens' forms

Joshua S. Mostow, The Hundred Poets Compared, 2007, p. 58 (poem translation)
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (www.mfa.org), accession nos. 11.42925, 11.15690, 34.366, and 11.15691 (multiple designs from this series)

(inv. no. 10-5190)

price: $950

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)



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