Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Utagawa Kunisada’s vertical diptych colour woodblock print of a man seated beneath a plum tree, c1830s



Utagawa Kunisada (歌川 国貞) (aka Toyokuni III [三代目歌川豊國]; Toyokuni II [二代目歌川豊國]; Gepparo; Ichiyusai [一雄斎]; Kinraisha; Kochoro [香蝶楼]; Gototei [五渡亭]; Ichiyosai [一陽斎]; Hanabusa Ittai; Hokubaiko; Fucho Sanjin; Fuchoan; Kio [喜翁]; Bukiyo Matabei [不器用又平]; Tsunoda; Shozo [common name]; Sumida [family name]) (1786–1864)

“Man seated beneath a plum tree” (descriptive title only), c1830s, two-panel colour woodblock print signed on plate: “Hanabusa Ittai Kunisada kei ga.”

Vertical diptych colour woodblock print with the two panels trimmed at the image borderline, adjoined and laid upon a support sheet.
Size: (support sheet) 84.7 x 31.3 cm; (adjoined sheets) 73.3 x 25.2 cm
Signed on the plate at lower right of lower panel.

Condition: crisp, well-printed and well-registered impressions, trimmed to the image borderline, adjoined and laid upon a support sheet of archival (millennium quality) washi paper. The print has MANY restorations with spot watercolour in-filling to address old wormholes.

I am selling this professionally restored vertical diptych from the early 19th century by one of the most famous of the ukiyo-e artists for AU$422 in total (currently US$326.32/EUR264.75/GBP230.54 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Note that this is a very large print and will be posted rolled in a tube.

If you are interested in purchasing this exceptionally large, rare and breathtakingly beautiful print, please contact me (oz_jim@printsandprinciples.com) and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold


Researching Utagawa Kunisada’ prints is more difficult than I had anticipated. The problem is not that his work is hard to find—that is far from the case. After all, according to the BM’s biographical details on the artist, “He was the most popular, prolific and financially successful designer of ukiyo-e woodblock prints in 19th-century Japan” (http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=146287 ). So prolific was this artist that the Wikipedia article about him proposes that he designed around 35,000 – 40.000 plates … almost unbelievable! The difficulty that I found is simply that the artist’s printmaking oeuvre is so vast in terms of what he portrayed and his name has so many variations that to link a signature/seal for a particular print in a timeline of evolution to his name and stylistic changes needs significant dedication. To be honest, my attribution of a date for this print of around the 1830s is based on what the original print dealer advised me about the date rather than on me verifying the information. To have an insight into the complexity of pinning down a print with certified information about its date of execution and publication, one only needs to consult the daunting (but marvellous) account of Kunisada’s signature/seals provided by “The Utagawa Kunisada Project”: http://www.kunisada.de/Liste/kunisada-signature-seal.html.

What I love about this print—and the reason that I originally acquired it—is partly because the unusual vertical diptych format is so unusual and visually arresting. Just as interesting to me, however, I see the portrait of the seated man with the gnarled plum tree—at least I think it’s a plum tree as the flowers don’t have the characteristic split in the petals like a cherry tree—overhanging him with all its zigzag of branches jutting out threateningly in space as a psychologically expression of his mindset.







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