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!









Comments コメント

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s