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Artist: Natori Shunsen (名取春仙)

Print: Bust portraits of Ichikawa Shōchō II as Umegawa [梅川]
and Kataoka Gadō IV as Chūbei [忠兵衛] in the play
Meido no Hikyaku ('The Courier from Hell' - 冥途の飛脚)

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Dates: 1927,created
Dimensions: 10.5 in,15.5 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese woodblock print
Inscription:

Signed: Shunsen ga (春仙画)
Seals: Shun and Sen
Natori seal of approval in lower right

Related links: Waseda University; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo - in b & w;

Physical description:

One of Shunsen's finest double portraits, set against a grey metallic speckled ground (a device used earlier to great effect by Utamaro). See 'Toledo Catalogue' 1930 #150. There is still a copy of this print in the collection of that museum.

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"Chūbei, the disowned son of a farmer, works as an Osaka money courier. He has spent his fortune on Umegawa, the young prostitute he loves. He embezzles, and later repays, a deposit for Umegawa's bond from Hachiemon, a wealthy and malicious client who knows of Chūbei's love for the beautiful prostitute. When Hachiemon finds out that his money has been misappropriated, he plans to foil Chūbei by paying for Umegawa himself. Meanwhile Chūbei tells the anxious Umegawa that he is unable to come up with the money.

"Chūbei is still in the establishment when brothel manager Jiemon urges Umegawa to go with Hachiemon, who arrives and demands Umegawa. The faithful Umegawa stalls, hoping her lover will save her. A principled man, Jiemon opts to gamble on Chūbei's return. Hachiemon scathingly insults Chūbei, who is eavesdropping nearby. Chūbei confronts Hachiemon and breaks the seal of a packet of government funds he is carrying, sending gold coins clattering to the floor. (This was a serious offence, and productions vary on its deliberateness.) Chūbei pays for Umegawa and hurries her away, terrified that his crime will be discovered. Meanwhile, Hachiemon finds the packet's official seal and reports the theft. A manhunt is launched.

"Chūbei tells Umegawa of the situation and she begs for three days together before they commit suicide. The lover's travel to Chūbei's home village. Umegawa pleads with Chūbei's father to see his son one last time, but he refuses. Umegawa persists, blindfolding him so that he can bid his son farewell without setting eyes on him. The lovers are eventually apprehended."

Quoted from: Stars of the Tokyo Stage, p. 100.

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Edition of 150.

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This is a scene from a play which was first performed in 1796. It is based on an early 18th century puppet play by Chikamatsu, The Courier from Hell.

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Illustrated in Stars of the Tokyo Stage, p. 101.

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There is another print in the Lyon Collection, #248, that features Chūbei, Umegawa and Magoemon, Chūbei's father. That one is by Toyokuni III.