Toyokuni III Utagawa, White Fox Woman, Spirits, Kabuki Play


Artist: Toyokuni III Utagawa (1786-1865)
Title: Abe no Yasuna and the White Fox Woman (Kuzunoha)
Publisher: Fujiokaya Keijiro
Dimensions: (L) 24.3 x 36 (C) 25.3 x 36.1 (R) 25.1 x 36.5 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.


The play, 'Abe no Yasuna and the White Fox Woman', also known as Kuzunoha, is deeply rooted in Japanese myth and retells the events of a popular legend on the kabuki stage. After the nobleman Abe no Yasuna saves a fox from a hunter, he encounters an alluring young lady on his way back home. The woman eventually becomes his wife and bears him a son, Abe no Semei, who will later be recognised as a renowned diviner of the imperial court. Yet, the happy family is soon separated when it is revealed that Abe no Yasuna's wife is actually the fox he saved in human form. Once their true identity is discovered, a magical fox must return to their domain. Before she goes, the fox leaves her family some poignant words of parting:


"If you love me, darling, come and see me -
you will find me yonder in the great wood
of Shinoda in Izumi Province, where arrowroot leaves
always rustle in a pensive mood"

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, Samurai & Male, Male & Female, Kabuki Theatre, Ghosts & Religion
Size(L) 24.3 x 36 (C) 25.3 x 36.1 (R) 25.1 x 36.5 cm
Condition ReportFaint stain right of outer panels. Slight tears and small hole right side of the centre panel. Some pinholes.
publisherTsujioka-ya Kamekichi:1866-1918