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Artist: Shunbaisai Hokuei (春梅斎北英)

Print: Arashi Rikan II as Miyagi Asojirō in the play
Keisei Tsukushi no Tsumagoto
[傾城筑紫爪琴(?)]

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Dates: created,1832
Dimensions: 10.0 in,15.5 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: color woodblock print with metallic pigment and embossing on paper
Inscription:

Signature: Shunkōsai Hokuei ga
Publisher: Kawaji
(Marks U127 - seal 25-104)
Carver: Kasuke

Related links: Chazen Museum of Art; Lyon (another example);Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes - posted at commons.wikimedia; National Gallery of Victoria; Hankyu Culture Foundation;

Physical description:

Color woodcut with silver pigment and embossing on paper; ōban.

This is an opening scene of firefly-viewing from the kabuki drama Keisei tsukushi no tsumagoto (The Devastating Courtesan Playing the Tsukushi Koto). It was performed at the Chikugo Theatre in Osaka in the third month of 1832. Chasing fireflies was a common pastime on pleasant summer evenings and is a natural setting for flirtations and romance. The hero of this play, here the actor Arashi Rikan II (1788-1837) shown holding a lantern with the name of the Tsūen teahouse along with his short and long swords indicating samurai status, meets his true love among the glittering firefly lights and the drama unfolds as a love story with complications of mistaken identity. Eventual recognition of a poem first written on a round-fan in the opening scene is crucial to the lovers reuniting. However, the poem printed in silver in the night sky in this print design is composed by the actor Rikan II himself, displaying humility in comparing his own skills compared with beauties of nature:

FirefliesFutsutsu kana
I am ashamed ware hazukashiki
Like an ignorant rustic hotaru kana

About forty percent of Hokuei’s known oeuvre depicts Rikan II who was a celebrity known for his versatility as well as his large, expressive eyes. He acceded to the famed Rikan kabuki family name in1828. This short-statured actor with the nick-name “Metoku” [eye virtue] may have had no dance skills but excelled at both romantic male leads and the onnagata, or women’s roles.

Trans. John Fiorillo, “Surimono-Style Prints by Hokuei,” Impressions. vol. 20 (1998): 64.

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There is another copy of this print in the collection of Cabinet d'arts graphiques des Musées d'art et d'histoire de Genève.

An anonymous similar design from 1837 is an interesting comparison: