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Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門) as the peasant Gosaku who is actually Ishikawa Goemon (百姓五作実は石川五右衛門) in the play Keisei Setsugekka [けいせい雪月花]

Identifier: 1821 Hokushu Utaemon scrim

This is one of the finest products of the carver's art. Enlarge this print and look carefully at the figures hidden behind the scrim. Brilliant! In fact, this image in a modified form is used as the cover of the paperback edition of Masterful Illusions: Japanese Prints in the Anne van Biema Collection.

In that catalogue it says: "Hokushū produced this subtle and complex design near the end of his artistic career, when his close collaboration with the master block engraver Kasuke, whose name appears in the oblong seal in the far lower-left corner, resulted in prints of surpassing aesthetic quality. Printed with luxurious details such as metallic pigments, this unique design is a masterpiece of conceptual originality, exquisite engraving, and technically outstanding printing - an appropriate commemoration of the virtuoso actor Utaemon III's first performance of his original play."

Dean Schwaab wrote in Osaka Prints on page 148: Keisei Setsugekka was written by Utaemon III and featured this actor playing the character of Ishikawa Goemon. Even Hokushū bestirred himself for the great performance of the spring of 1830... though he appears to have produced a single print in 1831 and another in 1832, this was the last year during which he produced more than a single print. This composition is very difficult to see clearly in small reproduction. The actor stands with hands clasped and face in the aragoto mie in front of a mesh curtain that is made to simulate smoke, and this was probably an actual stage device used during the performance. If one looks carefully at the curtain, the faces and forms of other members of the cast are visible among the stylized smoke, probably watching the actor and waiting for their entry cues."


Also illustrated in:

1) Ikeda Bunko, Kamigata yakusha-e shūsei (Collected Kamigata Actor Prints), vol. 1, Ikeda Bunko Library, Osaka 1997, no. 177.

2) Schätze der Kamigata: Japanische Farbholzschnitte aus Osaka 1780-1880, MNHA (Musée national d'histoire et d'art Luxembourg), p. 136, #282, 2012.

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