Toyokuni III, Hiroshige I, Genji Beauties, Sagano

Original Japanese woodblock print.

Artist: Toyokuni III Utagawa (1786-1865) / Hiroshige I Utagawa (1797-1858)
Title: Genji Beauties with Landscape of Sagano
Publisher: Iseya Kanekichi
Date: 1853
Condition report: Trimmed. Backed. Faint adhesive residue. Minor wormholes restored.
Size: (L) 24 x 34.9 (C) 24.6 x 35 (R) 24.7 x 34.8 cm


Sōhitsu [lit. twin brushes] is a term used to describe collaborative prints in the ukiyo-e woodblock print tradition. Known as a master in both the beauty and kabuki theatre style, Toyokuni III lends his talent to the design of two young ladies admiring the sweeping vista before them. Depicting the beauty of Sagano is Hiroshige I, the most renowned landscape artist in Edo period Japan (1600-1868) along with Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). The younger of the two ladies hold a telescope and is turned towards her senior with a look of cordiality. Hiroshige I employs bokashi gradation to convey sunlight rising from the bottom of the scene. The spring season is marked by the flowering cherry blossom trees adorning the view. Perspective is used to give a sense of the veranda jutting outwards above the vast scenery. Sagano has many resonances with the Tale of Genji, Japan's most famous epic novel written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu (c. 973 –1031). The rural area near the old capital of Kyoto hosts multiple temples and shrines visited by the characters in the story who often comment on its topographical beauty.

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, Landscapes, Kimono Design, Flowers & Botanical
Size(L) 24 x 34.9 (C) 24.6 x 35 (R) 24.7 x 34.8 cm
publisherIseya Kanekichi:1840-1875