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Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: Ichikawa Ebizō V (市川海老蔵) as the pirate captain Kezori Kuemon
(毛剃九右衛門) in the play Hakata Kojōrō makura or 'Love at Sea'

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Dates: 1837,created
Dimensions: 9.75 in,15.0 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print
Inscription:

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
(一勇斎国芳画) - within a toshidama cartouche
Publisher: Fujiokaya Hikotarō (Marks 062 - seal 01-036)
Censor's seal: kiwame

Related links: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Ritsumeikan (with a different poem); Shizuoka Prefectural Library;

Physical description:

Schaap says that this print is from a performance at the Nakamuraza in Edo in 1840. This does not agree with the location or the dating mentioned by C. H. Mitchell (see below).

"The story recounts the misfortunes of a young merchant (Shoshichi) who is travelling by sea to the port city of Hakata in northwestern Kyushu to visit his courtesan mistress, Kojōrō. He is aboard the pirate ship of captain Kezori Kuemon where he unknowingly witnesses the transfer of valuable contraband from China and Holland to Japan. To silence Shoshichi, Kezori orders his men to throw him and his servant overboard. By a stroke of luck, Shoshichi is saved and manages to meet up with his mistress in Hakata only to be confronted again by Kezori and his men. Although the latter want to kill him, Kezori is so impressed by Shoshichi's good luck - offers to spare his life and buy the mistress's freedom. He will do this, however, only on the condition that Shoshichi joins the pirate gang. Given no option, Shoshichi agrees. In the final acts of the play Shoshichi is arrested by the police and commits suicide. The pirates are likewise captured and driven away, but not before their ears and noses are cut off." Quoted from: Heroes and Ghosts: Japanese Prints by Kuniyoshi 1797-1861 by Robert Schaap, p. 153.

The poem in the upper right, coral-bracketed cartouche of this print is by Kuniyoshi's life long friend, Umeya Kakuju.

Timothy Clark in Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection wrote: "Hands planted firmly on hips, Kuemon leans forward with a threatening glare in a stage pose known as 'watching the tide' (shiomi no mie)." Clark gives the full name of the love-struck passenger as Komatsuya Sōshichi and says that he is spying on the pirates.

"It is a sign of Kuemon's tough, outlandish character that he is bearded and sports a bristling, ringleted stage wig - a variant of the curly-style (kusetsuki) stage wig typically worn by seafarers who have returned from foreign travels."

Clark also gives a variant title for the play: Koi minato Hakata no hitafushi (Haven of Love. A Hakata Piece)." This is a version based on a puppet play written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon and first performed in 1718.

"From late 1834 to early 1835 Ebizō had toured to places as distant as Nagasaki, the sole port open to foreign trade in the west of Japan. In his 1837 and 1840 performances as Kuemon he entertained the audience by peppering his speech with Nagasaki argot and showing off some of the exotic foreign goods he had acquired there. Spectators were particularly stunned by the splendid embroidery of five-clawed dragons on his costume, like the robe of a Chinese official..."

Clark continues: "This is one of nine half-length actor portraits for performances in the seventh and eighth months, 1840. The prints were probably sponsored by Umenoya Kakuju and other poets.... A different edition of the present design carries a poem by Umenoya, in place of the verse by Rikudaen, inside the cartouche with the border of red coral at the top right... It is not clear which printing is the earlier."

This is the rare variant state with a different poem in the top right corner. This very impression was used for a full page illustration in Robinson‘s 'Kuniyoshi' H M Stationery Office, London, 1961; plate 75 (ex C.H. Mitchell collection (his notes on mount) and later ex B.W. Robinson collection).

Mitchell's notes from the mat front:

This great actor, the leading figure on the Yedo stage for many years, was known as Ichikawa Yebizō for the major part of his career, having passed on the name of Danjurō to his son in 1832. He was banished from Yedo 1842 -1849 for what the authorities considered excessive luxury both in his stage productions and his private life. Kezori Kuyemon was a pirate chief (and is hence dressed in clothes of foreign style) in the p1ay "Hakato Kojorō", produced at the Ichimura theatre in the 1st month of Tempo 8 (February, 1837). "The Adventures of Funakoshi Juyemon" in Mitford's "Tales of Old Japan" gives one version of the story.

Signed Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi gwa within a toshidama cartouche.
Publisher Fujioka-ya Hikotarō
Kiwame ("approved") seal.

Lent 1837

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The example in the Shizuoka Prefectural Library has an extra date seal on it. They date their copy as 1840.

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Also illustrated:

1) In color in a full page in 歌川国芳展: 生誕200年記念 Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Exhibition to Commemorate the 200th Anniversary of his birth, 1996, #124, p. 109.

2) In color in Kuniyoshi by Juzo Suzuki, Heibonsha Limited, Publishers, 1992, no. 304.

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50 years later Kuniyoshi's student Yoshitoshi would appropriate this image in his triptych:


Keio University Yoshitoshi