Re:- Toyokuni II:- facts and fiction

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Posted by Dan McKee on May 21, 2003 at 23:42:40:

In Reply to: Toyokuni II:- facts and fiction posted by Theo de Kreijger on May 20, 2003 at 21:21:55:

Dear Theo,

These are interesting comments. Have you read Bickford's Sumo book? In that he launches several theories about Toyokuni II, most of them dismissed later after some crushing attacks on his ideas in Andon, yet nonetheless interesting. But he did make the same finding as you about the "zigzag" signature, and that is largely accepted as fact.

But let me frankly say that I have a somewhat different way of looking at the problem than yours. I hate to problematize things more than they already are, but keep in mind that print designers in 19th century ukiyo-e were much like fashion designers these days: they developed a name, then built a studio with talented people around them to do much of their work. The Toyokuni signature sold, whether the work was actually drawn by Kunisada, Kunimaru, Kuniyasu, Toyoshige or any of the other studio students. This fact destroys the usual authority of the signature, and makes style a more important and reliable factor. So your discovery of the hunched-over bijin style in Toyokuni I may not actually mean that he invented this and passed it on to the students (though that's certainly a possibility). In fact, the relationship may be quite the opposite.

I believe that if you analyze the prints from the last 5 years of Toyokuni's life, you can actually pick out several "hands" at work--which would certainly explain why some of his late prints are indistinguishable from Kunisada or Toyoshige in the same period. Of course there's a large degree of speculation here, as it's relatively impossible to establish who originated any given style. But I would argue that unless one believes that Toyokuni I was a "schizophrenic" artist, using several styles at the same time, there must be more than one hand at work in the late work. The same is true for Toyokuni III in the last years of his life.


By the way, how goes the Asahina hunt?

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