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Utagawa Kuniyoshi, A farewell surimono for Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII, a colour woodblock print

 

Height: 272.000 mm
Width: 555.000 mm

Arthur Morrison Collection

Asia JA 1906.12-20.01342

    Utagawa Kuniyoshi, A farewell surimono for Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII, a colour woodblock print

    Japan
    Edo period, AD 1849

    Tribute to a Kabuki actor

    This print marks the occasion of the actor Danjūrō VIII's temporary departure from the Edo stage in 1849 when he travelled to Osaka to visit his father, Danjūrō VII, who had been sent into exile there some seven years earlier under the severe Tempō Reforms.

    To honour their idol, Danjūrō VIII, members of two haiku poetry clubs - the Shimba and the Uogashi clubs located in the fish market districts of Edo - banded together and commissioned the large de-luxe-edition print from Kuniyoshi (1797-1861). He chose as his subject a monster carp kite, appropriate to his sponsors and also to the time of year: Boys' Day Festival is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month, when giant carp streamers are flown from poles. A carp ascending a waterfall was also one crest used by the Danjūrō lineage of actors. The design includes a cloth banner painted with a portrait of Shōki, ancient Chinese queller of demons. As a further tribute to the Danjūrō line, Shōki is given the features of the father, while the leaping carp, representing perseverance, may symbolize the son.

    Danjūrō VII's acting emblem was a curled lobster, and one of the poets, Taiwa, expresses the wish of all the fishmongers of the Nihombashi that he will return when he writes:

    Nibune no
    Ebi o machikeri
    Nihombashi

    Nihombashi
    Waiting for the lobster boat
    To come to port

    Danjūrō VII was indeed pardoned and returned to his adoring public in Edo later that year.

    L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)

    M. Narasaki (ed.), Hizō Ukiyo-e taikan-2, vol. 3 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1988)

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