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Toyohara Kunichika, 1835-1900
The Triplets Toneri Matsuomaru, Toneri Umeomaru, and Toneri Sakuramaru
signed Kunichika hitsu with Toshidama artist's seal, publisher's seal Hayashi (Iseya Rihei of Kinjudo), carver's seal Hori Sennosuke (Sugawa Sennosuke), combined censor and date seal Tora-kyu, aratame (year of the tiger , 9th month, examined)
oban tate-e triptych 14 by 29 1/8 in., 35.6 by 73.9 cm
In the right sheet, the actor Nakamura Shikan IV (1831-1899) is in the role of Toneri Matsuomaru; in the center sheet, the actor Ichikawa Kuzo III (Ichikawa Danzo VII, 1836-1911) is in the role of Toneri Umeomaru; and in the right sheet, the actor Sawamura Tanosuke III (1845-1878) is in the role of Toneri Sakuramaru, brothers from the play Sugawara Denju Tenari Kagami (Sugawara's Secrets of Calligraphy). Though the play is mainly about Sugawara Michizane, based on a historical Heian period statesman and poet (845-903), while it was being written a group of triplets were born, prompting the authors to write-in the three Toneri brothers as the loyal sons of Sugawara's retainer, Shiratayu, and name them after the classic trio of trees: matsu (pine), ume (plum), and sakura (cherry). In the play the brothers' loyalty is divided after Sugawara is wrongfully accused of trying to ascend the throne.
Compare with a small-format triptych of the brothers by Kunichika's teacher, Kunisada, from ca. 1830-35.
Arendie and Henk Herwig, Heroes of the Kabuki Stage, 2004, pp. 157-165
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (www.mfa.org), from the Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.41723a-c