Prints and Drawings by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861), Master of Graphic Storytelling March 18-19 in NYC (and online) Saturday-Sunday, 11am-6pm (by appointment only) Conrad New York Midtown (Private Suite) 151 West 54th Street
Utagawa Kuniyoshi, best known for his warrior prints, was a creative wellspring who designed works of graphic impact in every ukiyo-e genre. The graphic power of Kuniyoshi forms the DNA of modern Japanese manga, and he could elucidate the crux of an entire story in a single scene. Our exhibition also includes a number of unique preparatory ink drawings by Kuniyoshi, all with stellar provenance, as we have been specialists in drawings by Kuniyoshi for more than thirty years. For those visiting us in person in New York, we will of course also be bringing our curated selection of fine 18th-20th century Japanese prints by other ukiyo-e and shin hanga artists for viewing.
This year we will see clients by appointment at our suite at the Conrad New York Midtown, March 18 and 19. Easily book an appointment online on our website, live now, at egenolfgallery.com. These and more works from the exhibition will also be available for purchase from our website.
Raijin, The God of Thunder, After Dropping his Grappling Hook and Thunderclap Drums 加美鳴 Giga-e
Japanese color woodblock print. 1847
36 x 24 cm.
Our view is amidst the clouds. We see Raijin, the Thunder God, reacting with surprise as he’s dropped his grappling hook, which he was certainly using to try to retrieve his den-den- daiko drums from which he creates thunderclaps. He seems to be chasing after them from the cloud above, his three-fingered-hands outstretched. The thundercloud above him seems to be holding on to him, keeping him aloft. Titled Kaminari 加美鳴, Kuniyoshi has created a very humorous take on what is perhaps a scene from the dance performance Shiki utsushi tosae no futsutsuka (四季写士佐画拙) performed at the Ichimura Theater in the 11th month of 1847, with Ichikawa Kodanji IV in the title role. Kaminari-sama is another name for Raijin. The use of space in this work increases the humor of it, as we see Raijin at the top, drifting clouds in space, and then the object of his attention at the very bottom. A scarce and fantastic giga, or humorous “fun” print. KUY562
Original Preparatory Drawing of Inue Shinbei Masashi 犬江親兵衛仁 Lifting a Sapling
Sumi ink on Japanese paper. Ca. 1840s
32 x 23.1 cm.
We see the determined young strongman hoisting a sapling above his head, roots and all, his expression firm in his youthful face. This preparatory drawing eventually became the basis for the following published print, which may be found on the British Museum website: Inuye Shimbei Masashi (犬江親兵衛仁) wielding an uprooted tree trunk against two cowering assailants. The print was published about 1850 by Mikawaya Tesugoro. It is from the series Satomi Hakkenden, or History of the Eight Dogs of Satomi. Comparing the drawing with the finished print, the figure, face, stance and arrangement of the robes is very similar. In the finished print, the top of the tree may be seen pointing left, perhaps to make it more dramatic. We see how much of the story Kuniyoshi communicates to us using relatively few brushstrokes, giving us a strong sense of the hero with his determined expression and weight-bearing posture. DRW470
Yoshitsune and Benkei on Gojo Bridge
Japanese color woodblock print diptych. 1839-40
38 x 51 cm.
Minamoto no Ushiwakamaru (Yoshitsune) and Musashibo Benkei square off on Gojo Bridge. The glaring, ferocious stare of Benkei is strong enough to melt the heart of a lesser opponent, but the young and beautifully dressed Yoshitsune easily parries Benkei’s weapon with one hand, his only defense an open iron fan. The full moon is above them. Kuniyoshi was a master of graphic storytelling, and this scene was one of his favorites-- it is also one of the best-known stories in Japanese folklore. Benkei was a warrior monk of ferocious size and strength. He has been instructed to collect 1000 swords, and after gathering 999 he spies Yoshitsune on Gojobashi in Kyoto one night beneath a full moon. Benkei thinks that this sword will be as easy to strip from its samurai as the previous swords, as Yoshitsune is young and slight. Yoshitsune, however, has trained in swordfighting with the magical tengu king Sojobo and his tengu subjects, so he is actually victorious in this bloodless fight. Benkei subsequently becomes Yoshitsune’s most loyal retainer, and they go on to have many famous adventures. This exact print is published in the important Kuniyoshi monograph “Heroes & Ghosts” (Hotei, 1998) and it was exhibited at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1998. Very likely the finest example of this print that exists today. KUY545
Original Preparatory Drawing of a Kabuki Actor as the Samurai Watonai
Sumi ink brush drawing on Japanese Paper. Ca. late 1840s
32.2 x 22.6 cm
Terrific drawing of a kabuki actor as a warrior with his arms outstretched and his feet planted in a strong stance, his face fiercely set. It is most likely an actor in the role of Watonai from the play “The Battle of Coxinga”, a play written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon and based on the historical figure Koxinga. He wears the fringed robe and has his outer garments pushed down around his waist as he confronts an enemy, with his feet firmly planted apart. The hairstyle, the dots on the sleeves and the rope patterns drawn around his kimono point to this as a portrait of Watonai. Below we see small sketches, some for perhaps robe designs. Kuniyoshi has drawn quickly the fringes of the robe, and he has drawn a single one in detail of twisted rope, which would indicate that all of the fringes were to be drawn like this when the drawing was finalized. Here Kuniyoshi has drawn just the basic fabric patterns that identify the character; the large leaves, the rope, the dotted sleeves and the fringed garment at bottom. The left foot has been redrawn twice, and the sword at his waist has been redrawn a couple of times. Although more Kuniyoshi drawings have survived than for any other major ukiyo-e artist (thanks to his students mounting them into albums), almost all of these drawings are now found in European museum collections, and authentic works such as this one have become extremely scarce to the market. Provenance: Thomas Stauffer collection, (via Ferdinand Leiftinck, Bing, Javal; a similar provenance to the drawings in the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden and the Victoria and Albert Museum). DRW491
Fight to the Death of the Heroic Samurai of the Kusunoki Clan at Shijo-Nawate 楠家勇士四條縄手にて討死
Japanese color woodblock print triptych. 1851
Each sheet 37.9 x 26 cm.
The last stand of the Kusunoki Clan at Shijo-nawate in 1348. Three warriors keep fighting against impossible odds and a hail of arrows. Wada Shinboshi (Genshu) leads the counterattack at right. He brandishes two severed heads to shield his own face against the incoming onslaught of arrows, still moving forward, his weapon in his right hand. In the middle sheet is Masatomo, who holds a lowered battle standard as another improvised shield. To the left is Kusunoki Matsutsura, who crouches between a fallen horse and some planks of wood that he has used as cover, hoisting in front of him the body of an expired samurai as a shield. In order to focus on the three figures, Kuniyoshi has chosen a deep grey background that serves as contrast to the white arrows and the vibrant samurai, only showing hints of the raging battle in the background. As all three men are famously doomed, they all have the blue pallor of warriors who are about to expire. Blood flows from many wounds on each of them. KUY547
Beauties Enjoying The Crystal River of Hagi (Bush Clover) in Ômi Province 近江国 萩の玉川
Japanese color woodblock print triptych. 1847-48
37.2 x 73.5 cm.
Three women enjoy a late-summer evening excursion along the Noji river, their colorful kimonos contrasting elegantly with the impending dusk. This Crystal River is also called the Hagi, as it is so strongly associated with bush clover (hagi), also called Lespedeza. Here the beauty at right holds a lantern as well as what might be a cage to hold fireflies, walking towards her companions, her purple kimono sleeves swaying in the breeze. The woman in the center crouches to pick a branch of the bush clover, perhaps to place in the cage for the fireflies. Bush clover blooms in late summer/early autumn, and here we see their distinctively-shaped green leaves as dark grey and the blossoms as white puffs along the stems. This series of bijin-ga triptychs represent some of Kuniyoshi’s finest designs in the genre.
There is a famous poem by the Heian poet Minamoto no Toshiyori that references the hagi flowers on this Crystal River as well as the reflected moon, so Kuniyoshi has picked an evening scene also to echo this famous association. KUY574
The Warrior Yusho Arakawa Izu no Kami in Battle 勇將荒川伊豆守
Japanese color woodblock print. Ca. 1845
35.6 x 24.1 cm.
Heroic General Arakawa Izu no Kami (Yusho Arakawa Izu no Kami, 勇將荒川伊豆守). Closeup portrait of of the warrior Arakawa Izu no Kami in battle, bareheaded yet in full armor, still holding on to the yellow streamers of his standard, which create a bright contrast to his fierce expression. In the background we see outlines of troops doing battle along the banks of a river. This series concerns the 16th century battles between the forces of the famous enemy warlords Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin in Shinano Province. This warrior was on the side of Uesuge Kenshin. Series: One Hundred Brave Generals at the Battle of Kawanakajima [in Shinano Province]. 川中嶌百勇將戦之内. KUY573
Naito Shuri Masatoyo 内藤修理昌豊 In Battle
Japanese Color Woodblock Print Triptych. Ca. 1845
36 x 25.2 cm.
Naitô Shuri Masatoyo (内藤修理昌豊) is shown in battle, grasping the shaft of his naginata, wielding it against an unseen enemy. The detailed depiction of Masatoyo’s helmet and armor are exceptional. His helmet bears an elaborate maedate sculpture of Raijin, the god of thunder and his amassed clouds. Kuniyoshi did few series involving close-up portraits of samurai like this, so we can enjoy the intensity shown in the expression and the beauty of the samurai regalia. Masatoyo’s eyes have been printed with concentric grey circles within the dark pupils and blue color in the corner of the eyes for extra intensity. In the background we see outlines of troops amassed for battle along the opposite bank of a stream, while actual battle has commenced between the shadow figures on the middle distance. This series concerns the 16th century battles between the forces of the famous enemy warlords Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin in Shinano Province. This warrior was on the side of Takeda Shingen. A scarce design. KUY572
Heroic woman Kane-jo and horse 金女
Japanese color woodblock print. Ca. 1841-42
36.7 x 25.5 cm.
The Strong Woman Kane-jo (Okane) holds the reins of a dapple-grey horse. We see a traveling hat and what looks like a lacquer dipper on the ground, and Kane-jo seems to be focused on picking up these items. We may infer that she has used her strength to capture this spirited animal and now is calmly returning to pick up her belongings. Kane-jo is also known as Okane, and her most legendary feat of strength was to capture a runaway horse by stepping on its reins. Here perhaps we see the moment after this heroic feat. She may be here carrying some laundry under her left arm, as she was said to have been carrying a laundry tub at the time of her famous feat. A refreshing scene of a women who was heroic without the usual role of self-sacrifice for a husband or brother. KUY575
Beauty Gazing at the Moon compared to the Poet Fujiwara no Takamitsu (藤原高光)
Japanese color woodblock print. Ca. 1843
36.8 x 25.5 cm.
At the time of this print, the Tenpô Reforms were in full swing, and images of courtesans, long a major subject of ukiyo-e, were banned by the government under a raft of strict censorship laws. Here we scene of a beautiful woman gazing up at the moon, but cover from the scrutiny of the censors has been given by the title, “Moral Teaching for Young Girls Mirrored in the Thirty-six Poets”. This beauty gazes rather dreamily up at the moon, and she is compared with the 10th century poet Fujiwara no Takamitsu, who no doubt composed many a poem about the transcendence of the moon. She wears a beautiful kimono decorated with a paulownia flower pattern. KUY576
Konseimao Hanzui (Fan rui) Beset by Demons 混天魔樊瑞
Japanese color woodblock print. Ca. 1849-53
25.5 x 18 cm.
A group of weapon-wielding supernatural yokai bear down on Konseimao Hanzui from above, pressing him into a defensive posture near the ground, his weapon seemingly useless against a group of demons. Hanzui was the heroic leader of a warrior-gang and was said to be possessed of magic powers. Here he battles an army of demons invoked by the hostile general Kyodosei. However, Hanzui, with the help of his ally Kosonsho, (who magically abates the windstorm), eventually triumph over the demons. Kuniyoshi made a name for himself as the master of warrior prints with his first Suikoden series in the 1820s. He loved this Chinese novel and its opportunity to show burly heroes in exotic lands fighting in extreme conditions. This is one of the finest designs in this interesting set. With areas of deluxe mica. This exact print was selected for publication in the important 1998 catalog “Heroes & Ghosts”(Schaap, 1998), and it was exhibited at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1998. Provenance: Merlin Dailey collection. KUY542
Nichiren Praying for Rain at Ryozen-ga-saki, Kamakura, 1271
Japanese Color Woodblock Print Ca. 1831
25.3 x 37.7 cm.
The monk Nichiren prays for rain and is immediately rewarded with a downpour. This event takes place at the Ryôzengasaki in Kamakura in 1271. Considered the second-greatest design in this famous series, there is drama in the rain and drama in the waves and drama in Nichiren’s acolytes as they witness this miracle. Nichiren was the founder of the esoteric Buddhist Nichiren sect. The year 1831 marked the 550th anniversary of his death and it is thought that this series may have been designed as a tribute. Kuniyoshi was a follower of the Nichiren sect and was buried at the Daisenji, a temple of this denomination. Series: Concise Illustrated Biography of Monk Nichiren. The umbrella at the top is often trimmed, as it extends into the upper margin. KUY546