Toyokuni I

Utagawa Toyokuni I, 1769-1825

a parody of kendo (the way of the sword)

signed Toyokuni ga, with censor's kiwame seal and publisher's mark Wakasa-Ya Yoichi, ca. 1800

oban tate-e triptych 39.2 by 78.1 cm.

The triptych illustrating a parody of kendo (practice fencing), inserting beauties in the place of samurai. The center sheet with two bijin in a mock match, one on her knees, both holding katana (long sword) with wood blades. To the right and left other beauties observe with great interest. One acts as an attendant holding a spear, while another enters from the right carrying tea. The kimono of a courtesan on the left incorporates the word matsu (pine) into the pattern; while the kimono worn by the standing courtesan at the center refers to fuji (wisteria). A high-ranking courtesan with elaborate hair ornaments and kimono rests at the right on a cushion before a folding screen decorated with a sumi-e painting of bamboo.

The references to pine and wisteria found on the kimono of two of the courtesans may be a reference to brothels in the pleasure quarters. The composition, with the two battling bijin at the center, and three figures on each side, is subtly suggestive of a different sort of competition, perhaps between the two houses represented by the courtesans.

Utagawa Toyokuni was a leading artist of ukiyo-e. This print illustrates a stylistic shift for Toyokuni as he developed his own style of bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women), breaking from the conventions established in the previous decades by artists such as Katsukawa Shuncho (fl. ca. 1780-1795) and Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815).

Scholten Japanese Art Exhibition Catalogue 2000, New York, September 2000, no. 79



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