Hiroshige II, Toyokuni III, The Tale of Genji, Winter, Four Seasons

Original Japanese woodblock print.

Artist: Hiroshige II Utagawa (1826-1869), Toyokuni III Utagawa (1786-1864)
Title: Prince Genji Enjoying the Snow
Series: Genji in the Four Seasons by Twin Brushes
Publisher: Fujiokaya Keijiro
Date: 1862
Size: (L) 24.8 x 36.2 (C) 24.8 x 36.3 (R) 24.8 x 36 cm
Condition report: Slightly trimmed.


Genji and his fashionable company are seen by the banks of the Sumida River. A ferry boat rests on the river's edge as a lady begins to disembark. Marked by their garments and hairstyles, the ladies are courtesans attended on by a young maiko. They all wear high-platformed geta, traditional sandals, here augmented to adapt to the winter season. In the Edo period (1603-1868), the subject of Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji was imagined and reimagined countless times. In both archaic and contemporary forms, the story had been relocated from the old capital of Kyoto to the new audience Edo. A key proponent to the reinvigoration of this classic tale was the extremely popular serialisation of Ryutei Tanehiko's (1783-1842) illustrated book False Murasaki and a Rural Genji, a loose adaptation that interwove contemporary culture to the original plot. The two artists, Hiroshige II and Toyokuni III, greatly renowned in their respective fields of landscape and kabuki prints, join together to carry on the genre of modern Genji rendition. Hiroshige II allows faint green hints from the pine needles to emanate from the snow, whilst the deep contrast of Prussian blue strikes the boldest distinction between the pigments in the design. Toyokuni III, with his undisputed mastery in the realm of portraying the theatrical world, renders the subjects in intricately patterned robes, closely placing them within Genji's elegant world.

Toyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I) (1786 - 1864)

Kunisada I Utagawa was a prolific woodblock print artist mostly known for his pictures of beautiful women (bijinga) and kabuki actors prints (yakusha-e). Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), he became a pupil of Toyokuni I Utagawa (1769-1825) at the age of 15 and would later adopt his name in the traditional Japanese manner, becoming Toyokuni III and continuing the development of the Utagawa art school.

Kunisada’s pictures reflect the culture of Japan in the years leading up to the country’s opening to the West. His first book illustrations were published in 1807 and his first actor portrait the following year. Alongside theatrical scenes and courtesans, yakusha-e was his preferred genre amidst all his popular and extensive output. As he painted a large number of these, continuing the stout realism of his teacher, he acquired the nickname ‘Yakusha-e no Kunisada’ – Kunisada, the actor painter. In his numerous bijinga he clung to the ideal of beauty prevalent at the time. Most of the women portrayed were courtesans from Yoshiwara, the regulated red-light district of the city.

In 1820s Kunisada joined author Ryutei Tanehiko (1783-1842) to work on illustrating a series of books based on the classical novel ‘The Tale of Genji’, the reinterpreted story having been relocated from the old capital of Kyoto to the new audience in Edo. The work started a new ukiyo-e genre, genji-e, and proved an overnight success, becoming the first Japanese publication to sell over 10,000 copies, a record which stood for many years.

Kunisada gave his audience an escape from the restrictions of their ordinary lives and his designs, with their optimism and energy, still have the capacity today to attract and entertain. Notable students of Kunisada included Kunichika Toyohara, Sadahide Utagawa and Kunisada II Utagawa.

More Information
Print FormatTriptych
ArtistToyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I) (1786 - 1864)
SubjectBeauty & Female, Male & Female, Landscapes
Size(L) 24.8 x 36.2 (C) 24.8 x 36.3 (R) 24.8 x 36 cm
Condition ReportSlightly trimmed.
publisherFujioka-ya Keijiro:1843-1923