Kuniyoshi 国芳: Original Preparatory Drawing with Lucky Gods in Nikki Danjo Magic Mouse Scene

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Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861)
Title: Original Preparatory Drawing with Lucky Gods in Nikki Danjo Magic Mouse Scene
Date: ca. late 1840s

Kuniyoshi’s creativity at its best. We see two of the Lucky Gods, Ebisu and Daikoku, acting out a famous scene from the well-known play Date kurabe Okuni kabuki or perhaps Date zensei sakura no iromaku (伊達旭盛桜彩幕). Kneeling in a kabuki stance we see Daikoku, holding his famous mallet above his head as he attempts to strike at the large, evil mouse lower left who (in the play) has stolen a precious scroll . To the left we see Ebisu in the role of Nikki Danjo, who in this scene is always shown making this magical mudra and holding a scroll in his mouth as he performs his evil magic. Ebisu is always shown with a fishing pole as one of his attributes, as here. Written at top left is Buyû hakkei 武勇八契, or the “Bravery of the Eight Heroes”, but it is difficult to make the connection between this kabuki scene and this notation.  Kuniyoshi has made a number of corrections to Daikoku, adjusting both the position of Daikoku and the position of his mallet above his head; the under-drawing may be seen below the pasted area of correction. There are several sketches of other faces, and it would make sense that they would be for the five other Lucky Goods, namely, Bishamon at lower right, Benzai upper right, and Hotei Fukurokuji and Jurôjin at top. Kuniyoshi designed many kabuki prints that feature this play in 1849, so perhaps he is experimenting with a fresh take on a perennially popular scene. Provenance: Thomas Stauffer Collection via Bing and then to the dealer Merlin Dailey. 

The provenance of this drawing is stellar. It is from the Thomas Stauffer collection, whose collection reportedly contained eight Kuniyoshi drawings albums via the dealer Bing. A US collector purchased this work from the dealer Merlin Dailey, who acquired it from the collection of the Chicago collector Thomas Stauffer. Other Kuniyoshi albums are in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as the Rijksprentenkabinet, Rijskmuseum and the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden. These collections all are assumed to have originated with the French dealer S. Bing, and some through Emil Javal and then through the dealer Felix Tikotin to the collector Lieftinck. 

Size: 11.8 x 19 cm

Condition: Very good condition overall. The thin paper has been  backed with a thin sheet of paper for protection. Minor loss at upper right corner and lower left corner. With two areas of pentimenti.

Reference:  Although this work is unpublished, these books are highly recommended: M. Forrer, Drawings by Utagawa Kuniyoshi - from the collection of the National Museum of Ethnology Leiden; The Hague, 1988. B.W. Robinson, Drawings by Utagawa Kuniyoshi - in the collection of Ferd. Lieftinck of Haren, Holland; Groningen, 1953. Fagioli, Utagawa Kuniyoshi: 90 disegni; Firenze, 1985. Fagioli, Kuniyoshi - an appreciation of his drawings; in: ANDON no. 21; 1986.