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VJP title
Utamaro print showing

 

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Gassaku ()
Collaborating on Print Designs

 

Toyokuni II & Kunihiro Gassaku () were collective works — paintings, drawings, and prints on the same or related themes in a shared pictorial space by two or more artists. Some scholars limit the term to artists of comparable status; others use it a bit more generously.

Utagawa (Gosotei) Toyokuni II (c. 1777-1835) and his pupil Utagawa Kunihiro (active circa 1820s-1830s) were two of many ukiyo-e artists who collaborated on print designs. In this case it seems clear that the teacher was providing his pupil with an opportunity to demonstrate his burgeoning talents.

The print depicts a beauty grooming her eyebrows, one design from the series Fûryû azuma sugata ("Fashionable Eastern Portraits") circa 1826 - 1829. There is no publisher's seal, but at least one other design from the series bears the mark of Izumiya Ichibei. The print is titled Junishi ("Twelfth branch," that is, the twelve zodiacal signs) and includes an inset of a tiger (tora), the third sign of the zodiac. The titles are given in three toshidama-in (a seal derived from the ideogram for toshi meaning "year," written in stylized script at the upper right of a circle or ball, dama). The seal was designed by the founder of the Utagawa School, Toyokuni I (1768-1825), who began using the toshidama seal around 1808 in his gôkan ("combined volumes," which were popular novels issued in multi-volume sets). The seal also appears in red just under Gosotei Toyokuni II's signature at the middle right of the print.

This impression is an early one (later impressions with some keyblock wear are also known), but the colors are partly faded, especially the red (beni). The young beauty is observing her handiwork in a mirror. The red cloth hanging from the lacquered frame was used to wrap the mirror when not in use to protect it from scratches and tarnishing. The woman's yellow inner robe includes a pattern of turtles.

Her physiognomy is of the type also used in the bijin-ga of Kunisada I (Toyokuni III) and Keisai Eisen. The inset of the tiger, signed by Kunihiro, is competently done. The tiger has a playful demeanor, more like a pet cat than a wild beast. The prints from this series are among the more admired designs by Toyokuni II.

Portraits of women making up or grooming before mirrors were perennial favorites of ukiyo-e patrons. The self-absorption of some of these women could be quite effectively rendered by the more skillful ukiyo-e artists, especially by the master of bijin-ga, Kitagawa Utamaro. These glimpses into a woman's private chamber contained a voyeuristic element, not only for the men who were endlessly fascinated by these stylish women, but also for the women who were curious to discover the latest trends in fashion and observe how their own gender was being portrayed in woodblock prints. ©1999-2001 by John Fiorillo

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Kondo, E. Il Mondo di Eizan. Genoa, 1989, p. 20.
  • Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art: Keisai Eisen Ten Botsugo 150 Nen Kinen ["Exhibition of Keisai Eisen in Memory of the 150th Anniversary of His Death"]. Tokyo: 1997.
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