Utagawa Toyokuni I (初代歌川豊国) (artist 1769 – 02/24/1825)
Picture of Fireworks at Ryōgoku Bridge (Ryōgoku hanabi no zu - 両 国花火之図) - lower half of a six panel composition
ca 1820 – 1825
31.5 in x 15.5 in (Overall dimensions) color woodcut
The lower 3 panels of a 6 panel hexaptych. The top panels depict a huge crowd watching fireworks from the bridge. The lanterns in the top right quadrant of the right-most panel have "Utagawa" emblazoned on them, the artist's art-group name.
The curatorial files at the Victoria and Albert Museum say:
"People gather to watch fireworks on a summer evening. They wear simply- patterned kimono permitted by the sumptuary laws. These edicts banned expensive red dye, but there was no restriction on using the colour for undergarments or linings. One woman is lifting the hem of her kimono to seductively reveal the red underneath. Wearing the coveted colour in this way became very fashionable, a fleeting glimpse being deemed more sensuous than an overt display."
The woman referred to in this quote is visible in the center or these panels in the Lyon Collection, however her red undergarment has faded to pink. Nevertheless, the effect is still the same.
On the right panel, on the second boat back, is written in kanji in three roundels, 歌 - 川 - 丸 or 'the Utagawa ship'. This appears on a structure which shelters a low table with an ikebana display of irises, chrysanthemum-like flowers and a possible bonsai pine tree.
The fellow on the rooftop of the boat on the left is probably an actor is casual summer garb. In his right hand is a pipe and near his left hand is a tobacco pouch. The women throughout look like courtesans and/or geishas.
1) All 6 panels are illustrated in a full-page, color reproduction in Impressions of Ukiyo-e by Dora Amsden and Woldemar von Seidlitz, 2007, p 62.
2) The entire composition in color in Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print by Frederick Harris, 2010, p. 75.
Harris wrote: "This is a fascinating and very rare print composed of six sheets forming one composition. It is also a remarkable feat of printing to have kept the register intact on all six sheets. The people on the far side of the bridge - an assortment of characters, including parents with children and older folk - are watching fireworks. In the center distance people seem to be watching each other. On the near side of the bridge, they are absorbed in observing the gay life and partying going on in small boats tied up under the bridge. Courtesans are playing shamisen while some are dancing. Everyone is having a great time under the eyes of a curious crowd of pleasure seekers themselves. The boatmen are an intriguing part of the scene."
3) In color in Masterpieces of Japanese Prints: The European Collections - Ukiyo-e from the Victoria and Albert Museum, Kodansha International, 1991, p.55. It shows all six panels.
4) In color, all six panels, in Ukiyo-e to Shin hanga: The Art of Japanese Woodblock Prints, Mallard Press, 1990, p. 116.
5) All six panels in Competition and Collaboration: Japanese Prints of the Utagawa School by Laura Mueller, 2007, pp. 104-105.
6) All six panels, large and in color in Japanese Prints by Catherine David, 2010, Éditions Place des Victoires, pp.18-19.
Yamamotoya Heikichi (山本屋平吉) (publisher)
Historical - Social - Ephemera (genre)
Ryōgokubashi (両国橋) (genre)