Kunisada (Toyokuni III)

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)


Right: Related Sleeves in Bay-Dye, Left: Mutually Created Genji
(So no yukari sode ga urazome, Ai moyo Genji jitate)

with karazuri (blind printing) on the hanging scrolls in the background to mimic the texture of silk, lacquer printing in black areas and a dusting of mica in the upper areas of bokashi; signed Toyokuni ga with publisher's seal Izumi ichi (Izumiya Ichibei), censor's seal aratame, and date seal u-hachi (year of the hare [1855], 8th month), 1855

oban tate-e hexaptych 13 3/4 by 57 1/8 in., 34.8 by 145.2 cm

Well into the mania for all things related to Genji in the mid-19th century, Kunisada produced this six-panel composition comprised of two adjacent triptychs, each with matching title cartouches located on the far right and far left sheets but with different titles, thereby ensuring the publisher the flexibility of selling the triptychs together as an impressive novelty, or separately, if need be. The expansive scene is of an evening gathering of elegant figures within a well-appointed interior. The location appears to be on an upper floor of a teahouse, brothel, or an inn, with shoji panels opening onto a verandah revealing an enviable view overlooking a body of water, the top part of boat riggings visible to the right, and a line of skiffs moored in the distance. Several candlestands provide lighting for the merry group who chat while occupying themselves with reading and writing, perhaps practicing calligraphy or composing poetry for a friendly contest.

At the far right seated on a cushioned pillow is Mitsuuji, the protagonist of A Rustic Genji and Fraudulent Murasaki (Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji), the modern adaption of the 10th century classic, The Tale of Genji (Genji Monagatari). He wears a sumptuous formal brocade coat utilizing purple and red with highlights in yellow over an inner layer of aubergine with a yon-kuzushi (lit. 'four counting rods') pattern, the black on his collar is printed with shomenzuri (burnishing) to imitate velvet. He is surrounded by beautiful women displaying a dizzying array of patterns, including, from right to left, a kneeling woman wearing a kimono with white daisy-like chrysanthemums over blue kagome temari balls, and light blue fundo-tsunagi (traditional weigh measurements) at the collar. A standing woman wears a purple kimono decorated with toys and light blue geometric sayagata (interlocking 'manji') pattern on the collar. A young girl wearing a red kimono decorated with kiku (chrysanthemums) hands Mitsuuji a cloth-wrapped item. A seated woman wears a striking ensemble with an outer kimono of maroon and white kanoko-shibori over an inner layer of blue and white with the same pattern, and an underrobe with white kikko (tortoiseshell) on a red ground. Both kimono have beni-red collars decorated with the pattern known as Hanshiro-kanoko, a shibori pattern in the shape of asanoha (hemp leaf) made popular by the kabuki actor Iwai Hanshiro V (1776-1847) in the early 19th century and apparently a favorite of Kunisda's as well, as it is worn by four other women in the composition. In the last panel of the right triptych a standing woman wearing a gorgeous black kimono with floral roundels pauses beside a shoji door to speak with a seated woman in purple leaning backwards to respond. In the right triptych a standing man holding a poem card or letter wears a dark green kimono with a pattern of dense light blue arare-komon (hailstones), a woman reading models the Hanshiro-kanoko pattern on her kimono with padded sayagata hem, and a man wearing a dark blue kimono with shippomon (interlocking circle crest) holds a brush at the ready as he contemplates a bundle of papers in his hand. A seated figure is seen in silhouette behind a shoji panel, on the other side of the open door a seated woman wears a kimono decorated with light blue and lavender shima (stripes) with floral bands over black and white Benkei-koushi (Benkei lattice or checked), and a standing woman wears a deep aubergine kimono decorated with black wisteria towards the hem. In the back corner of the room a woman holding a bundle of paper wears a brown and grey komochi-jima (lit. 'stripe with child') kimono, and on the verandah a figure in the foreground wearing a brown kimono with a dense hyotan (gourd) pattern approaches another peering around the corner wearing a back kimono decorated with blue seashells at the hem.

As multi-panel prints are vulnerable to separation, it is all the more astounding that this double triptych survived intact. The left triptych may have proven more popular as there are impressions with changes to the blocks and simplifications that economized on the selection of pigments used. It is unclear how the titles of the triptychs, Related Sleeves in Bay-Dye (right), and Mutually Creating Genji (left), relate to any specific episode in the Rustic Genji. In his comprehensive work on Kunisada's Genji-related prints, Marks groups this ambitious hexaptych in a category he calls 'Artists Imaginations,' pointing out that artists were only limited by what publishers were willing to finance. In this instance, Kunisada managed to design two equally harmonious compositions which when united, form more than the sum of its parts.

Andreas Marks, Genji's World in Japanese Prints, 2012, pp. 212-213. no. 214; Appendix 1 G236 & G234
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 00.968, 00.91003, 00.1004 (left triptych only, later impression)

(inv. no. 10-5579)

price: Sold

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)
Right: Related Sleeves in Bay-Dye

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)
Left: Mutually Created Genji


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