Re:- Toyokuni II:- facts and fiction

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Posted by Dan McKee on May 25, 2003 at 06:36:46:

In Reply to: Re:- Toyokuni II:- facts and fiction posted by Theo de Kreijger on May 25, 2003 at 02:55:18:

Hi Theo,

Wow, great post. I enjoyed the reference prints and the ideas. I think you are right on in saying that (from the economic side too :>) artists had an interest in striking out and claiming original ground. My resistance is really to the way the Western conception of the individual artist has been applied so unthoughtfully to Japan, and especially to ukiyo-e, where the idea of the pioneering genius driven by some inner need for original expression just doesn't work.

But on the Toyokuni II Mitate Chushingura group you've put together here (very impressive) I'm not sure I'm clear on the reasons for the conclusions you are making in regard to them. First, I have to say that though I agree they are compositionally exceptions to most of Toyokuni II's work, they still seem to me to suffer from many of the same flaws as the hackwork. The figures are still stock Utagawa school, just larger than in the triptychs, their positioning not always clear or convincing, the coloring unthoughtful and a bit cloying. Over all, to me these seem to lack the drama and psychologically driven compositions/coloring of the work of the first Toyokuni, who I really enjoy (despite all the bad things written about him.)

Toyokuni I also made some very striking double bust portraits at the turn of the 19th century. Compare this one to the Toyokuni II examples, and I think you'll see what I mean about the defects of II. Look at the way these figures fill the compositional space, seemingly about to spill out into real life. Look at the lines and the compositional vortex that pulls the eyes to the center and the figures' faces. II has borrowed the technique of placing characters in the same space at different heights to set them off, but without any of the drama. The Sadakuro scene is my favorite of the 3 you posted for drama and composition, but I found the others a bit dull.

This is just one person's opinion (and to each their own) and you should by all means enjoy the prints that appeal to you. But I'm trying to understand how you are reaching the conclusion that these particular prints separate "II" from Kunisada (if unsigned, they would immediately have brought Kunisada's name to my mind) or from Toyokuni I. Neither the style nor the compositions seem to clearly distinguish him.

One other comment: since these are titled "Mitate Chushingura" I think it more likely that they are based on imaginary pairings of actors than actual portraits from the stage. If the actors did appear together in 1833, and this series was based on that performance, the "mitate" would have to be on something else. But perhaps the 1833 performance was a mitate come to life!

Best wishes,

P.S. Do you have images of the Asahina surimono from the Ward collection (#33 and #37)?

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