Kunisada: Prince Genji and Female Abalone Divers at the Seashore Triptych

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Artist: Utagawa Kunisada
Title: The Shining Prince Amusing Himself at the Seashore: Number III (Mitsuuji isobe-asobi, sono san). 
Date: 1859

The Shining Prince Amusing Himself at the Seashore: Number III (Mitsuuji isobe-asobi, sono san). The “Shining Prince”, Genji, enjoys watching female awabi (abalone) divers at work, this time from the shore. He is richly attired, as always, and seems about depart in his luxury palanquin, seen lower right. He holds a folding fan in his right hand. His female attendant kneels, and holds his sword respectfully with a cloth, being sure not to touch the lacquer sheath directly. She is pointing towards the four abalone divers, at left.  On the shore, one diver has put a tie-dye patterned blue robe over shoulders, and seems to be resting after a dive. A  second diver is combing out her hair, either preparing to dive or just having finished a dive. Right next to a rocky outcropping we see a third diver, toweling herself dry with a hand-towel. Their companion has just dived into the waves, and may be seen far left diving towards their collection point, the tool for harvesting abalone held in her teeth. The waves are beautifully rendered, and we see sailboats, plovers and moored boats in the distance. As Timothy Clark noted about the example of this design in the British Museum: “A boom in Genji parody prints in the 1850s followed after two popular Kabuki plays on the theme. Here Kunisada invents a fantasy of Prince Mitsuuji admiring voluptuous abalone divers, in a composition derived in part from Utamaro.” (See BM online, number 1907,0531,0.609.1-3)

Condition: Very good impression, color and condition. In upper corners are embossed Japanese collector’s seals. Untrimmed and unbacked. The rightmost sheet has a stain near the right corner and a wrinkle in the paper.
Dimensions: ôban triptych (37.5 x 78 cm)
Signature: Toyokuni ga
Literature: See Marks “Genji’s World in Japanese Woodblock Prints”, page 199, number 196 (double-page illustration.) See British Museum online.