Kunichika Toyohara, Firemen and Sumo Wrestlers, Tattoo Design


Artist: Kunichika Toyohara (1835-1900)
Title: Azuma Meibutsu Uwasa no Shinmei
Publisher: Ishii Rokunosuke
Date: 1890
Dimensions: 36.5 x 71.9 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

During a sumo tournament in 1805, a group of rowdy firefighters showed up and began to provoke the sumo wrestlers. The tobi firemen, named after the hooked instrument which pulls down the affected walls to create firebreaks, were quick to temper and the confrontation ended in a massive brawl leaving one fireman killed and nearly a hundred men wounded.

This event was frequently depicted in woodblock prints and became a stylized play and dance on the kabuki stage with fights on the ground, upon ladders, and rooftops.

The massive figure in the centre is a sumo wrestler lifting a ladder while the nimble firemen hold onto the tools of their trade, the hook. These two groups, the wrestlers and especially the firemen acted as police, gangsters, extortionists and peacekeepers in the still lawless streets of Edo in the nineteenth century. They not only started violence but also ended it.

More Information
Print Format Triptych
Artist Name Kunichika Toyohara
Title Azuma Meibutsu Uwasa no Shinmei
Subject Samurai & Male, Kabuki Theatre, Tattoo
Dimensions 36.5 x 71.9 cm
Condition Report Backed. Joined panels. Some dust around the edges.

Kunichika Toyohara

One of the last great masters of ukiyo-e, Kunichika was inspired by the plays, actors and customs of kabuki theatre. His colourful prints are records of a long lost, decadent underworld of Edo. As a young man, he studied with the ukiyo-e artist Chikanobu, from whom he received his artist name. He then apprenticed under Kunisada and began to produce actor prints in the Utagawa style, though he never used the Utagawa name. Unlike most artists of the period, he made use of strong reds and dark purples, often as background colours, rather than the softer colours that had previously been used. These new colours were made of aniline dyes imported in the Meiji period from Germany. When portraying people he only occasionally showed figures wearing Western dress, despite its growing popularity in Japan. He is also one of the best known artists to have designed a great number of prints featuring tattoos, a genre made popular earlier in Edo period by Kuniyoshi Utagawa.