Toyokuni III Utagawa, Spring, Genji and The Four Seasons


Artists: Toyokuni III Utagawa (1786-1865)
Title: Spring
Series: Genji and The Four Seasons
Publisher: Maruya Jimpachi
Date: 1856
Size: (L) 35.8 x 25.0, (C) 35.6 x 25.1, (R) 35.8 x 25.1 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

‘The Tale of Genji’ (Genji Monogatari) is a full-length Japanese novel written by Murasaki Shikibu, a talented aristocratic female poet from the Fujiwara clan in the middle of the Heian era (794 to 1185). Consisting of 54 chapters in trilogy, it is a biographical tale of the main character Prince Genji and his descendants after his death, which continues for 70 years, with 500 castings and more or less 800 poems. It recounted Prince Genji’s involvement with ladies of the court, but it was more than just a romantic love story of high society. It was a psychological insight into the principals of human life, being read by enlightened and educated nobles in the Imperial Court. ‘The Tale of Genji’ is now considered to be a Japanese classic masterpiece and one of the most influential work of literature in history. It has also been translated in numerous foreign languages since.

In the Edo period (1603-1868), ‘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 text of Tanehiko’s Genji was illustrated by renowned artist Kunisada and the series achieved enormous commercial success, giving birth to a whole new genre in the world of woodblock prints: genji-e (pictures of Genji).

More Information
Print Format Triptych
Artist Name Toyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I)
Title Spring
Subject Male & Female, Landscapes, Kimono Design
Dimensions (L) 35.8 x 25.0, (C) 35.6 x 25.1, (R) 35.8 x 25.1 cm
Condition Report Slightly trimmed, pinholes, tears and small hole on the left panel.

Toyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I)

Kunisada became a pupil of Toyokuni at the age of 15, and would later, after the latter’s death, assume his name. 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 very many of these, continuing the stout realism of his teacher, he acquired the sobriquet “Yakusha-e no Kunisada” – Kunisada, the actor painter. In his numerous bijin-ga he clung to the deal of beauty prevalent at the time. While his style must be described as powerful and realistic, even coarsely so, his draughtsmanship and coloration are if anything monotonous and lacking finesse. From 1830 he continued the development of the Utagawa school, and from 1844 onwards signed his works Toyokuni III.

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