Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Artist: Iwasa Matabei (岩佐又兵衛)

Print: Ōtsu Pictures for the Times: A Rare Thing You've Been Waiting For (Tokini Ōtsu-e kitai no maremono - 流行逢都絵希代稀物)

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Dates: created,1848
Dimensions: 10.0 in,14.0 in,Overall dimensions

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
Artist's seal: kiri
Publisher: Minatoya Kohei (Marks 332 - seal 24-075)
Carver: Hori Takichi
Censor seals: Mera and Murata (on left and center); Hama and Kinugasa (on the right)

Related links: British Museum; Lyon (similar diptych);Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture; Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts; Waseda University - left panel; Waseda University - center panel; Waseda University - right panel; Tokyo Metropolitan Library - right panel; Tokyo Metropolitan Library - center panel; Tokyo Metropolitan Library - left panel; National Diet Library; Muzeum Sztuki i Techniki Japońskiej Manggha, Krakow - left panel only; Victoria and Albert Museum; University of Vienna; Google map - Ōtsu, near Lake Biwa; Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg - right panel only;

Physical description:

The Museum of Fine Arts translates the title of this triptych as Ryūkō Ōtsu-e kitai no maremono - 流行逢都絵希代稀物 - or 'The Amazing Phenomenon of Popular Ōtsu-e Paintings'. This is considerably different than the one given by the British Museum: Toki ni ōtsu-e kitai no maremono.


"Colorful characters from the Ōtsu folk paintings have come to life and stand in a circle looking at their creator, the painter, who is seated in the centre. 'Ōtsu pictures' (Ōtsu-e) were a lively kind of folk painting made in and around the village of Ōtsu, in Ōmi province (modern Shiga prefecture) as souvenirs for travellers along the Tōkaidō road. The silhouetted figures on the fluttering sheets of paper in Kuniyoshi's print indicate that the characters have emerged from his paintings. Lest there be any doubt that the artist is Kuniyoshi, the fan at his side bears a large version of the Yoshikiri seal and a pet cat looks up to gain its master's attention (Kuniyoshi was a cat-lover). Tantalisingly, one of the Ōtsu paintings dances in the air right in front of the painter's face. Kuniyoshi included some half-dozen self-portraits in his prints and book illustrations, but without exception he either hides his face or avert it from the viewer. Such playful self-effacing modesty was expected of a true 'Edokko', an artisan or merchant of Edo.

Perhaps, then, the 'Rare Thing You've Been Waiting For' mentioned in the title is not Kuniyoshi's never-to-be-seen face, but the 'likeness' (nigao) of leading Kabuki actors 'hidden' in the Ōtsu characters. By 1848 the Tenpō reforms' publication regulations had been relaxed sufficiently for artists to be permitted once more to design recognisable images of actors, provided they were not named. The present print should therefore be regarded simply as one of Kuniyoshi's playfully inventive 'crazy pictures' (kyōga). The actors and their roles have been identified by Suzuki Jūzō. Anti-clockwise from the right, they are Ichikawa Kodanji IV as Thunder God (Kaminari), an unknown actor as Catfish with Gourd (Hyōtan namazu), Onoe Kikujorō (?) as Young Falconer (Takajō wakashu), Ichikawa Kuzō II as Samurai Footman (Yakko), Ōtani Hiroemon as Daikoku (Gehō), Iwai Kumesaburō III as Ushiwaka-maru, Nakamura Utaemon IV as Demon Reciting Buddhist Prayers (Oni nenbutsu), Nakayama Bungorō as Drunkard Samurai Footman (Sakanomi yakko), Onoe Baikō IV as Wisteria Maiden (Fuji musume), Seki Sanjūrō III as Blind Musician (Zatō and Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII as Benkei Carrying the Bell (Tsurigane Benkei...).

Suzuki Jūzō reproduces an impression from the earliest printing of the design, which has the entire background printed blue and a wiped horizontal band of black across the top... There, as here, the orange lead (tan) pigment has tarnished black in many places."

Quoted from: Kuniyoshi From the Arthur Miller Collection, Timothy Clark, p. 128.


"For this composition, Kuniyoshi drew on a play written for the puppet theater by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724). Titled Keisei hangokō (The Beauty Whose Spirit Appears in the Incense Smoke), it was first performed at the Takemoto Theater in Osaka in 1708. One of the plays many subplots involves a certain Matahei (loosely based on the artist Iwasa Matabei), who is credited with having invented ukiyo-e. In one dramatic episode, the authorities are about to arrest Matahei on false charges, but the characters in his paintings magically spring to life and defend him. Kuniyoshi shows the artist seated before a red felt painting mat. As though lifted by a divine wind, the sheets of paper bearing Matahei's paintings rise into the air and transform into Ōtsu-e characters, rendered in the simplified Ōtsu-e manner.

The composition was slightly subversive. Titled Tokini Ōtsu-e kitai no maremono (Popular Ōtsu-e Phenomenon), it ostensibly illustrates the Matahei story. Kuniyoshi, however, evaded edicts forbidding the depiction of Kabuki actors by substituting the faces of famous performers for Ōtsu-e characters' faces. As if taunting government censors, he even pictured the warrior monk Benkei wearing kumadori, the distinctive Kabuki makeup. Furthermore, he boldly represented himself in the role of Matahei. Although Matahei's face is obscured by a piece of airborne paper, the nearby fan bearing Kuniyoshi's crest leaves little doubt as to his intention. He was also known to be fond of cats, and a spotted feline - perhaps intrigued by the fluttering paper - sits on its haunches beside the artist."

Quoted from and illustrated in color in Worldly Pleasures, Earthly Delights: Japanese Prints from the Minneapolis Institute of Art, text by Matthew Welch, p. 183, #147.


Also illustrated in black and white in 原色浮世絵大百科事典 (Genshoku Ukiyoe Daihyakka Jiten), vol. 9, p. 24.


There are other copies of this triptych in the University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts and in the National Gallery, Prague. It is also illustrated in black and white in Ukiyo-e Masterpieces in European Collection 5: Victoria and Albert Museum II, Kodansha, 1989, on page 169.


The University of Vienna identifies all of the figures.

The following actors are displayed:
1. Ichikawa Kodanji IV: kaminari - thunder god
2. Bandō Hikosaburō IV: monkey with namazu (catfish) and gourd
3. Ichimura Uzaemon XII: takajō - falconer
4. Ichikawa Kuzō II: yarimochi - retainer carrying pike
5. Ōtani Hiroemon V: geihō daikokuten - Daikokuten
6. Iwai Kumesaburō III: Ushiwakamaru - name of Minamoto Yoshitsune
8. Nakamura Utaemon IV: oni no nenbutsu - demon
9. Nakayama Bungorō II: sake nomi yakko - servant drinking sake
10. Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII: tsurigane benkei - Benkei with the bell of the Miidera Temple
11. Onoe Kikugorō IV: fujimusume - wisteria girl
12. Seki Sanjūrō III: zatō - blind