THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
UTAGAWA KUNIYOSHI (1797–1861), EDO PERIOD, 19TH CENTURY | MITSUKUNI DEFYING THE SKELETON SPECTRE CONJURED UP BY PRINCESS TAKIYASHA (SOUMA NO FURUDAIRI YOKAI GA SHADOKURO TO TATAKAU OYA NOTAROU MITSUKUNI)
THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
UTAGAWA KUNIYOSHI (1797–1861), EDO PERIOD, 19TH CENTURY
MITSUKUNI DEFYING THE SKELETON SPECTRE CONJURED UP BY PRINCESS TAKIYASHA (SOUMA NO FURUDAIRI YOKAI GA SHADOKURO TO TATAKAU OYA NOTAROU MITSUKUNI)
woodblock print: ink and colour on paper, each sheet signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga and with artist's seal Yoshikiri [right sheet only], publisher's mark Hachi, censor's seal Watari (Watanabe Jiemon), 1845-46
Vertical tate-e ôban triptych:
Left sheet: 38 x 25.8 cm., 15 x 10⅛ in.
Centre sheet: 38 x 25.7 cm., 15 x 9⅞ in.
Right sheet: 38 x 25.5 cm., 15 x 10⅛ in.
- Fine condition, impression and colour.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
This fearsome apparition has been conjured by the Princess Takiyasha, the surviving daughter of Taira no Masakado (?–940), who spies onto the scene from the left as she reads from a scroll of spells. She calls up a monstrous skeleton to frighten the warrior hero Ôya Tarô Mitsukuni, who was sent by his lord Minamoto no Yorinobu (968–1048) to destroy her witchcraft.
The giant skeleton looms out of the blackness to menace Mitsukuni below by pulling back tattered reed blinds with its fingers.
This tale is dealt with the book (yomihon) Tales of Faithful Uto Yasukata (Uto Yasukata chugi den) (1806) by Santō Kyōden (1761–1816). While the scene in Kyoden’s novel features several hundred skeletons, which are divided into two armies and fight a battle, Kuniyoshi elegantly replaces these with a monumental depiction of a single giant skeleton sensationally spreading the three sheets of a triptych.
The print is untrimmed and benefits from bright, overall unfaded colours. It seems to be one of the earliest states, which is evidenced by a black pigment of granular character that appears on the skeleton’s chin and ribs in the centre of the chest and the grey colour of the eye sockets. In later printings, the band of wiped black disappears from the top of the composition and the eye sockets are of a deeper blue tone.
The same print is in numerous museum collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 11.30468-70, The British Museum, museum no. 1908,0418,0.2.1-3, and the Honolulu Museum of Art, object no. 11641.06.