Toyokuni III Utagawa, Palanquin Bearers, Kabuki, Tattoo Design

£3500
SKU
JG011912
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Reserved

Artist: Toyokuni III Utagawa (1786-1864)
Title: Three Fashionable Palanquin Bearers
Publisher: Otaya Tasuke
Date:1859
Size: (R) 25.2 x 35.7 (C) 25.2 x 35.8 (L) 25.2 x 35.8 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

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Edo city was a lively place constantly expanding. This period saw a growth in transport, triggered by the need to move from one corner of the city to another relatively fast, especially for merchants. Urban tradesmen such as hikyaku (express couriers) and kago-mago (palanquin bearers) were a major social group that wore tattoos as a distinctive mark of their trade. For ease of movement and because of Japan's hot and humid climate during the summer months, they preferred discarding their clothes and wearing only a loincloth. Tattooing for them was an alternate means of concealing and adorning their bodies. Many foreigners who visited Japan after it reopened trade with the West enjoyed the spectacle of being carried around in a palanquin and took home photographs of palanquin bearers as souvenirs.

In this print, Toyokuni III portrays three kabuki actors as palanquin bearers in a popular play of the day. From left to right, the actors Ichikawa Kodanji, Kawarasaki Gonjuro and Nakamura Fukusuke are part of a mitate (parody) in the kabuki dance performance 'The Returning Palanquin'. In the play, two palanquin bearers Azuma no Yoshiro (born in Edo) and Naniwa no Jirosaku (born in Osaka ) brag about the pleasure quarters of their hometowns while they carry the apprentice geisha Tayori (from Kyoto). They stop to rest in Murasakino in Kyoto where a field of yellow rapeseed and cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Then they call out the kamuro apprentice from the palanquin and talk about pleasure quarters in Kyoto, Osaka and Edo. Finally, however, the men retrieve objects concealed in each other's breast pocket, revealing their true identities. The objects are a precious incense burner, and a scroll of names of those who are plotting against the government. Suddenly both bearers realise that in fact they are the thief Ishikawa Goemon (Edo hero) and the general Masashiba Hisayoshi (Osaka hero), two sworn enemies. They start to fight, but Tayori manages to separate them.

More Information
Print Format Triptych
Artist Name Toyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I)
Title Three Fashionable Palanquin Bearers
Subject Samurai & Male, Kabuki Theatre, Tattoo Design
Dimensions (R) 25.2 x 35.7 (C) 25.2 x 35.8 (L) 25.2 x 35.8 cm
Condition Report Backed. Minor spots on the white areas.

Toyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I)


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.