Toyokuni III Utagawa, Pine, Suikoden Heroes, Tattoo Design


Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) (1786-1865)
Title: Pine. Actors Ichikawa Ichizo III as Nozarashi Gosuke, Comparable to Shi Jin, the Nine Dragoned (right); Nakamura Fukusuke I as Asahina Tobei, Comparable to Lu Zhishen, the Tattooed Priest (centre); and Kawarazaki Gonjuro I as Ude no Kisaburo, Comparable to Wu Song, the Ascetic
Series: A Contemporary Water Margin – Pine, Bamboo, and Plum
Publisher: Rinsho
Date: 1858
Size: (R) 24.4 x 36 (C) 24.6 x 36.1 (L) 24.5 x 36.1 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

The samurai class of Edo Period had yet to adjust to the daily routine of peacetime and grew frustrated with the loss of status and usefulness. Bored and idle, they frequently cased trouble in towns and were involved in street fights and robbery. At the same time, the commoner otokodate (street knights) were gaining confidence in their strength among the merchants and they were employed by clerks, shopkeepers, innkeepers, and artisans for protection. The samurai and the otokodate were thus natural rivals, and as each group banded together into teams under leaders, fierce and bloody clashes broke out frequently.

The otokodate were one of the main groups to adopt tattoos as a recognisable feature and they were idealised and romanticised in ukiyo-e and kabuki dramas. This triptych is from a set of three, each showing actors posing against a background of trees at night: pine, bamboo, and plum, the ‘Three Friends of Winter’ in the Chinese ink painting tradition. Kunisada shows the actors in the roles of characters from a popular novel at that time, Suikoden (Water Margin). The actors are depicted with striking tattoos on their bodies, in true ‘otokodate’ fashion.

More Information
Print Format Triptych
Artist Name Toyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I)
Title Pine. Suikoden Heroes.
Subject Samurai & Male, Kabuki Theatre, Tattoo Design
Dimensions 36.1 × 24.6 cm
Condition Report Very light spots on the white areas. Minor paper residue on the back.

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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