Utagawa Kuniyoshi Exhibit 歌川国芳展

Cats forming the word "octopus" (tako). Image property of http://www.kuniyoshiproject.com

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) is said to be one of the last great early modern ukiyo-e (woodblock print and painting) artists. Kuniyoshi is known for incorporating a number of styles and treating an array of subjects, but, being the cat lover I am, I have for some time especially enjoyed his depiction of cats, which were sometimes used to represent real people, such as popular kabuki actors, courtesans, and government officials.

The Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts (Osaka shiritsu hakubutsukan) is currently putting on a major Kuniyoshi exhibition in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of his death. I have seen posters advertising this exhibition in train stations and have been meaning to go, so I was happy when Somemaru said earlier this week he would like to take me. We went  to the exhibition today, spending two and a half hours touring the staggeringly vast show.

It was simply fabulous. To say the least, it was a treat to see so many quality Kuniyoshi ukiyo-e in one place, up close and personal — the old handmade paper, the wonderful bold colors, an incredible display of popular early modern subjects, different editions of the same prints, meticulously carved cherry wood blocks (done by artisans, not Kuniyoshi)… the list goes on.

I know that Somemaru is a big art lover, and is himself an artist, but what does he as a hanashika get out of viewing wonderful art such as this? According to him, there is much “play” (asobi, e.g., share, mitate) in Kuniyoshi’s work. This gives hanashika an idea about the kind of games people played in early modern Japan, what they thought was funny and fashionable, what inspired trends.

"Hyaku monogatari," inspired by Hayashiya Shôzô I. Image property of http://www.kuniyoshiproject.com

There is not much to do about ukiyo-e in rakugo, but, being that countless works in this style serve as realistic illustrations of Edo-period life, they offer much to hanashika (and rakugo fans) as aids to imagination and understanding. Interestingly, it became clear today that rakugo (or one of its early modern predecessors) inspired Kuniyoshi in at least one case. The 1840 print “One Hundred Tales: Picture of the Haunted Mansion” (Hyaku monogatari bakemono yashiki no zu) was inspired by a ghost story (kaidan banashi) composed and performed by the hanashika Hayashiya Shôzô I (1781-1842), one of Somemaru’s artistic ancestors.

We had a great time today viewing Kuniyoshi’s art. I was very lucky to tour the exhibit with Somemaru, who was kind to give me a mini-lecture at virtually every print.

After we finished at the Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts we went out for Chinese food. Shishô, thank you for a very educational, and enjoyable day!

歌川国芳(1798年~1861年)は近世後期の浮世絵界で最後の名人の一人と呼ばれています。様々なスタイルとテーマを用いましたが、僕は猫好きですからか、前から国芳の猫の描写が特に好きでした。国芳の猫はたまに本当の人物、歌舞伎の役者、遊女、政府の役員などを象徴します。

只今、大阪市立博物館が国芳没後150周年の大きな展覧会を行っています。駅などで国芳展のポスターをよく見かけていまして、いつか見に行きたいなと思っていました。そんな矢先今週の始め頃、染丸師匠が国芳展に誘ってくださいましたので、とても嬉しかったです。今日、師匠と一緒に行って、2時間半も立派な展示をゆっくり見てきました。

一言で言うと、最高でした。控えめに言っても、一カ所でこんなにたくさんの国芳の絵を直で鑑賞できるなんて、贅沢でした。古い手作りの紙、鮮やかに目立つ色、幅広い近世の主題、同じ浮世絵の異版との細かい違い、非常に注意深く掘られている桜の木版、等など。

染丸師匠は絵が大好きで、絵もよくお描きになります。師匠が今日のような素敵な絵をご覧になり、噺家としてどんなメリットがあるのか教えてくださいました。国芳の絵には「遊び」(しゃれ、見立てなど)がたっぷり入っています。国芳の浮世絵は噺家に江戸時代の人々の遊び方、粋、流行の原点などについて教えてくれます。

落語では浮世絵の話はあまり出ませんが、多くの浮世絵が近世の現実をそのまま保存しているので、噺家にとって(落語のファンにも)近世を想像し理解する上で、大事な資料です。面白いことに、歌川国芳は落語(正しく、その前の話芸)に少なくとも一度影響されました。1840年の版画ですが、「百物語化け物屋敷図」というものは、染丸師匠の祖先である初代林屋正蔵(1781年~1842年)が創作して語っていた怪談噺を想像して描かれたものです。

今日は、国芳の絵を鑑賞でき、本当に楽しかったです。版画一枚一枚ごとに染丸師匠がミニレクチャーまでしてくださいました。僕はホンマにラッキーでしょう。

大阪市立博物館の後は、中華料理を食べに行きました。師匠、とても勉強になり、また楽しい一日を、本当にどうもありがとうございました。

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