This site requires that you enable Javascript to function properly Scholten Japanese Art | Tsukioka Yoshitoshi 1839-1892 | Actor Onoe Baiko V as Iwakura Sogen
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Actor Onoe Baiko V as Iwakura Sogen

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1839-1892

Snow, moon, and flowers: Snow: Actor Onoe Baiko V as Iwakura Sogen
(Setsu gekka no uchi: Yuki: Iwakura no Sogen; Onoe Baiko)

signed Yoshitoshi ga, with artist's seal Yoshitoshi, carved by Hori Yu, and publisher's date and address seal Meiji nijusannen, hachigatsu, -ka; Tokyo Nihonbashi Muromachi Sanchome 9-banchi, shuppanjin Akiyama Buemon (Meiji 23 [1890], August) of Akiyama Buemon of Kokkeido

oban tate-e triptych 14 5/8 by 29 5/8 in., 37.1 by 75.1 cm

Baiko was the poet name (haimyo) of the actor Onoe Kikugoro V (1844-1903), and though he never technically performed under that title he is often remembered by it. The cartouche identifies him in the role of Iwakura Sogen, a decrepit priest, performing in the play Falling Cherry Blossoms (Hanafubuki). However, it would seem that Kikugoro is not on record performing the role until the fifth month of the following year at the Shintomi Theater alongside other notable actors including Nakamura Fukusuke IV (Nakamura Utaemon V; 1865-1940) in the role of his lover Orikoto-hime. Baiko is said to have modeled his performance of the role after that of Bando Hikosaburo V (1832-1877), who performed as Sogen at the Nakamura Theater in the 2nd lunar month of 1862.

The role is that of the priest Iwakura Sogen, who broke his vow of celibacy after becoming infatuated with the courtesan Orikoto-hime. He did so knowing that it would mean his expulsion from his temple, however he did not anticipate her death soon thereafter. He retires to his wintry hermitage to die alone. The Sogen story is closely related to (if not adapted from) the tragedy of Priest Seigen. In that story Seigen becomes infatuated by the princess Sakura-hime, and either haunts her after starving himself to death, or, long after their separation, falls in love with her reincarnation as the young priest Shiragiku.

The gap between the publication date of the print and the actual performance is important in that the play title would be changed in the interim nine months. The play, whose full title was Falling Cherry Blossoms and Iwakura Sogen (Hanafubuki Iwakura Sogen), was to open with a memorial for the recently deceased Sanjo Sanetomi (1837-1891), a high ranking Meiji bureaucrat who served for a time as interim Prime Minister. However, society gossip led to speculation that the tribute was in fact to Iwakura Tomomi (1825-1883), one of the original Restoration conspirators who in life had the reputation of a schemer and who, it was speculated, had orchestrated the poisoning of Emperor Komei (1831-1867; if not administering the poison himself). In lieu of cancelling the performance altogether, the government instead mandated that the title be changed to Mirror of the Marriage Sleeve (Zoho'in Shu Kagami).

This triptych is one of three from Yoshitoshi's series Snow, Moon, and Flowers (Setsugekka no uchi). Published two years before his death in 1892, Snow is indicative of the stylistic shifts which mark Yoshitoshi's late-career compositions. This psychological study places the subject Sogen in a spare setting that heightens the intensity of Sogen's plight. While the emaciated image of Sogen, covered sparsely in a blue robe, dominates the central sheet, the flanking sheets are simply composed. On the right, a dilapidated interior is filled with smoke from a small fire. On the left, a snow covered bough, towards which Sogen is walking, defines the exterior as far colder and emptier than the small enclosure. The steely blue streak in Sogen's eye gives the tired and weakened man a sense of determination in the otherwise bleak and desolate setting.

Yoshitoshi depicted the monk in his 1868 chuban series, Valor in China and Japan; and again in the 1886 vertical diptych, The Depravity of Monk Seigen.

References:
Keyes 1983, p. 493, no. 517.1
Segi 1985, pp. 98-99, no. 59
van den Ing & Schaap 1992, p. 90, no. 69.1
Akita Museum of Modern Art 1999, p. 24, no. 66
Keene 2002, pp. 96-97, 114-117 (re: Iwakura Tomomi)
Ota Memorial Museum of Art 2012, pp. 144-145, no. 217
Iwakiri 2014, p. 196, no. 307
Waseda, accession no. 100-8440 (re: Bando Hikosaburo V 1862 performance)
Waseda, accession no. 100-8447 (re: Onoe Kikugoro V 1891 performance)
BBC & British Museum (bbc.co.uk), A History of the World (re: 1891 Shintomiza playbill)

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