Kunisada: Album „Bijin – Tôkaido
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Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) (1786-1865)
The complete series of the famous Bijin Tôkaidô (Views of the Tôkaidô road with beautiful ladies) – all of the 56 colour woodblock prints in brilliant early impressions
Title: Tôkaidô gojûsan tsugi no uchi (The fifty-three stations of the Tôkaidô)
Signatures: Kôchôrô Kunisada ga, Ôju Kunisada ga, Gototei Kunisada ga, Ôju Kôchorô Kunisada ga
Censor: Kiwame seals
Publisher: Sanoya Kihei (28), Moriya Jihei (22), Sanoya and Moriya (4) without publisher seal (2, as usual)
Date: Edo, c. 1833
Print sizes: Vertical chûban, heights 26 - 26,5 and widths 18,5 - 19,5 cm (paper size)
Album size: 30 x 22,5 x 4 cm
All of the 56 woodblock prints untrimmed and unbacked. Excellent impressions in very fine, extremely fresh colours. Each single print is slightly attached at the corners on high quality mica speckled cardboard. Some few prints with minimal flaws (minor stains, a few small worm holes a.o.). Overall excellent conditions.
Double-sided leporello (accordion folding) album with brown silk covered boards (silk partially age worn); gold speckled title slip with handwritten title „Kunisada Tôkaidô gojûsan tsugi-soroi – gojûsan-mai“(complete series of Kunisada’s 53 Stations of the Tôkaidô, 56 sheets). Board interiors covered with gold leaf speckled paper.
Rarely found complete and in such excellent printing and condition quality!
In this charming Tôkaidô series Kunisada combines his famous depictions beautiful women with the then only recently published eminent landscape designs by his contemporary Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858).
Each of the compositions presents in the background one of the road stations on the important and much travelled main route – the Tôkaidô (East sea road) – leading from Edo (today’s Tokyo) to Kyoto. The richly detailed beautiful landscape sceneries and lively inn scenes are populated by travellers along the road. Set apart from the scenery by a band of clouds - reminiscent of the classical Tosa school of painting - a graceful female figure dominates the foreground of each picture. These women, of various professions and social strata, such as pilgrims, travellers, musicians, dancers, geishas, courtesans and many other, are characterized by their paraphernalia and lavishly detailed dresses.
For the sceneries of the first 42 (and the 44th) picture Kunisada adapted – only slightly changed – the images of Hiroshige’s immensely successful horizontal Tôkaidô series (also called Hôeidô Tôkaidô, after its publisher) , which had begun to appear in 1831/32. Since Kunisada did not rely on Hiroshige’s models for the following designs of his series, it is – according to Andreas Marks – possible to conclude that Hiroshige’s Tôkaidô series was not yet finished then, thus dating Kunisada’s series to c. 1833.
Kunisada’s Bijin-Tôkaidô, too, turned out to be extremely popular with the Japanese audience of the time; the prints of the series were published in several editions by two different publishers, and many colour variants can be found. The prints of the present album were published in almost equal parts by the two publishers Sanoya and Moriya. The consistently high printing and colour quality indicates that they apparently come from first or early editions. The set was most likely assembled by one (contemporary?) Japanese collector’s hand: very often mall remnant sections of the adjoining print, together with which it was printed from the same printing blocks, can be found left on the otherwise completely untrimmed prints.
For a comprehensive discussion of this series see Andreas Mark’s instructive book Kunisada’s Tôkaidô. Riddles in Japanese Woodblock Prints, Leiden 2013, p. 62ff. For the Tôkaidô in general, see also Jilly Traganou, The Tôkaidô Road. Travelling and representation in Edo and Meiji Japan”, New York, N.Y. 2004
A rare chance and pleasure to turn the pages of this complete album and admire the special charm of these fifty-six single prints, one after one, travelling through Edo period Japan in the company of Kunisada’s beautiful women!