Kuniyoshi 国芳: Tanmeijirô Gen Shôgo Tattooed Hero Fighting Underwater (SOLD)
Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi 国芳 (1797-1861)
Title: Tanmeijirô Gen Shôgo 短冥二郎阮小五
Series: Modern Life-Size Dolls 当盛生人形
Date: 1856, 2nd month
Dramatic underwater fight scene of Ruan Xiaowu fighting with He Tao, two characters from the Chinese Water Margin (Suikoden) story. He Tao was sent by the government to arrest Xiaowu after he and other bandits had stolen goods from a powerful Chinese official. Xiaowu (Gen Shogo in Japanese) has the upper hand here, as he easily overpowers the government official. We can see he is an outlaw-bandit by the large tattoo of a tiger against bamboo that covers his upper body. His hair drifts upward with the current and he wears a lovely golden circlet on his head. Two fish are shown swimming by with indifferent expressions. This image contains interesting layers of meaning, as this is actually showing an “iki-ningyo”, or “living dolls” exhibit that was shown in 1856 to great public acclaim. This would have been a type of streetshow spectacle that the public could view for entertainment, probably for a small fee. These dolls were extremely lifelike (and some could even move) and must have been something special to behold indeed–Kuniyoshi appreciated them so much that he created several series that featured this aspect of urban culture.
Matsumoto Kisaburoo 松本喜三郎 from Kumamoto Prefecture was famous for creating large dolls in fantastic scenes that were made by the traditional hariko 張子 technique, in which paper maché was realistically formed over the structure made out of bamboo and wood. The dolls were so real that people were fascinated. Kuniyoshi visited these exhibitions and made many different versions of the scenes. In 1856 (the same year as this print), Matsumoto created a successful show with articulated dolls that depicted heroes from the Water Margin, as here.
Matsumoto was the first to make models of human internal organs upon an official request from the Medical Dept. of the forerunner of Tokyo University.
Condition: Excellent impression and color; very good condition.
Dimensions: ôban 36 x 24.1 cm
Literature: See Rijksmuseum. This work is described in detail in “The Riddles of Ukiyo-e: Women and Men in Japanese Prints 1765-1865” (2023), number 69, page 151.
Signature: Ichiyûsai Kuniyoshi ga