Kunimaru-The Four Accomplishments

Kunimaru-Calligraphy

Utagawa Kunimaru, 1794-1829

The Four Accomplishments: Calligraphy
(Kinkishoga: Sho)

two bijin from the Gisshazakura House in the Furuichi ('old city') at Ise with a patron, from an untitled series; signed Edo Utagawa Kunimaru hitsu, with artist's seal Saika [Saikaro], and publisher's seal Maru-ya Jimpachi (Marujin, Enjudo); the poem at the top of the composition signed Santo an Kyoden, ca. 1810

oban tate-e 15 1/4 by 10 3/8 in., 38.7 by 26.2 cm

Utagawa Kunimaru, the son of an Edo pawnbroker, was a student of Toyokuni I (1769-1825). A haiku poet in his own right, this print is a collaboration with the famous poet, Santo Kyoden (Iwase Samuru, 1761-1816), an important figure in ukiyo-e circles. Kyoden studied ukiyo-e painting and printmaking under Kitao Shigemasa (1739-1820). Although he had a promising future as an ukiyo-e artist under the go of Kitao Masanobu, at the urging of the influential publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo (1750-1797), he turned to writing and gained his greatest fame as a novelist using the go of Santo Kyoden. He was most well-known for his kibyoshi novels which he wrote and illustrated himself, often signing the illustrations as Kitao Masanobu while the author was identified as Santo Kyoden. He was also a calligrapher and a well-connected member of kyoka poetry circles. As an artist, illustrator, calligrapher, writer and poet, Kyoden was a principal of the floating world. In his thirties, he opened a tobacco accessory shop which became a favorite meeting place for Edo glitterati such as artists, writers, actors, and courtesans. He frequently lent his calligraphic hand and poetic wit to fellow-artists on their painting commissions, at poetry parties, and even on simple folded fans to amuse his customers.

Kyoden designed his own illustrated advertising for his shop, as well as for other businesses. This print, specifically identifying the Gisshazakura House and promoting the refined accomplishments of the beauties in residence, was likely commissioned by the brothel (and perhaps subsidized by the burly patron depicted with the courtesans), in an effort to attract customers to far-away Ise.

The poem reads:

Sakura no ma
rokuju no
shina sadame
Hikaru Genji no
kimi ga kurumaza

In the cherry room
at the age of sixty
this Hikaru Genji
selects from the circle

For comparison with an impression in the collection of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, see www.mfa.org, accession number 50.2317.

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