Kuniyoshi 国芳: Original Preparatory Drawing of a Kabuki Actor as Defiant Samurai Watonai (SOLD)

  • Sold.

Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861)
Title: Original Preparatory Drawing of a Kabuki Actor as Defiant Samurai Watonai
Date: ca. late 1840s

Terrific drawing of a kabuki actor as a warrior with his arms outstretched and his feet planted in a strong stance, his face fiercely set. It is most likely an actor in the role of  Watonai from the play “The Battle of Coxinga”, a play written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon and based on the historical figure Koxinga. He wears the fringed robe and has his outer garments pushed down around his waist as he confronts an enemy, with his feet firmly planted apart. The hairstyle, the dots on the sleeves and the rope patterns drawn around his kimono point to this as a portrait of Watonai. Below we see small sketches, some for perhaps robe designs. Kuniyoshi has drawn quickly the fringes of the robe, and he has drawn a single one in detail of twisted rope, which would indicate that all of the fringes were to be drawn like this when the drawing was finalized. The splotches of ink are probably from another drawing that Kuniyoshi drew that had bled through to this one; this is not uncommon in his drawings. The small sketch at bottom that shows a man balancing a pole with two heavy ends is interesting. Kuniyoshi has also drawn a small pattern of a type of linked chain. It is the opinion of this dealer that there was a specialist who would complete the elaborate patterns in the garments of the figures after Kuniyoshi drew the initial design, as this was a time-consuming  process and one that would require specialist knowledge of many types of fabrics. Here Kuniyoshi has drawn just the basic fabric patterns that identify the character; the large leaves, the rope, the dotted sleeves and the fringed garment at bottom. The left foot has been redrawn twice, and the sword at his waist has been redrawn a couple of times. Although more Kuniyoshi drawings have survived than for any other major ukiyo-e artist (thanks to his students mounting them into albums), almost all of these drawings are now found in European museum collections, and authentic works such as this one have become extremely scarce to the market. Provenance: Thomas Stauffer collection to the dealer Merlin Dailey.  (Stauffer reportedly had eight Kuniyoshi drawings albums as late as the 1960s, via the dealer Bing.) The Kuniyoshi drawings in museums collections seem to have come via Ferdinand Leiftinck, Bing, Javal; a similar provenance to the drawings in the  Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden and the Victoria and Albert Museum).

Size: 32.2 x 22.6 cm

Condition: Some paper losses; lightly mounted to backing sheet for safety.

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.