The Edo/Tokyo artist Toyohara Chikanobu (豊原周延 1838–1912; also Yôshû Chikanobu 楊洲周延 and real name Hashimoto Naoyoshi 橋本直義) had training in Kanô-school painting, but he preferred ukiyo-e. He began his studies with a disciple of Keisai Eisen (渓斎英泉 1790-1848). He then joined the studio of Ichiyûsai Kuniyoshi (歌川國芳 1798-1861) around 1852, using the name Yoshitsuru. After Kuniyoshi's death, he studied with Utagawa Kunisada (歌川國貞 1786-1865), sometimes signing as Yôshû (楊洲), and finally with Toyohara Kunichika (豊原國周 1835-1900), calling himself Isshunsai Chikanobu and focusing on actor portraiture. Once established, Chikanobu created print designs with many themes, foremost among them bijinga (美人画 pictures of beautiful women) and sensô-e (戦争絵 pictures of war or warrior prints), including many triptychs depicting events from the aforementioned Boshin War as well as the Satsuma Rebellion (Seinan Sensô: 西南戦争) in 1877. Other subjects included historical scenes, kabuki, famous places (meisho 名所絵), portrayals of the emperor, and pastimes of women. As a late master of bijinga, he produced numerous images and series of beauties in single sheets, diptychs, and triptychs.
For more about Toyohara Chikanobu, see Chikanobu Biography.
All three roles depicted in Chikanobu's triptych are included in the play Tôkaidô [Azumakaidô] Yotsuya kaidan (Ghost story along the eastern sea road at Yotsuya: 東海道四谷怪談), the most popular of all kabuki ghost plays and an 1825 masterpiece by the playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV. The main theme involves Oiwa's husband Tamiya Iemon — a down-on-his-luck rônin (lit., "wave man" or masterless samurai: 浪人) reduced to making oil-paper umbrellas — despairs over his ill fortune, made worse by Oiwa, who is struggling in her postpartum convalescence and nursing a newborn child. He finds temptation in a neighbor's young daughter named Oume, and is persuaded by her grandfather to give Oiwa a "medicinal potion" — actually a poison — meant to disfigure her so that Iemon will divorce her. Oiwa drinks the potion and her face takes on a monstrous countenance. Soon after, she suffers an accidental death brought on by jealousy and rage. Her ghost relentlessly haunts Iemon, tracking him down in a hermitage at Hebiyama ("Snake Mountain") where he is taking refuge. He is finally slain by another rônin aided by the sister of a servant he has murdered.
However, the present scene appears to be from Act I soon after Iemon has a violent argument with Yotsuya Samon, his father-in-law, and then murders the older man. Meanwhile, Naosuke, a medicine peddler, desires Osode, the sister of Oiwa and the wife of Satô Yomoshichi. Naosuke discovers Osode in a brothel run by Takuetsu (宅悦) where he is interrupted by Yomoshichi. Unable to pay the fee demanded by Takuetsu, Naosuke is driven out of the brothel while being mocked by Yomoshichi and Osode. At the same time that Iemon commits his murder, Naosuke kills Okuda Shôzaburô, his former master, whom he mistakes for Yomoshichi. Iemon and Naosuke then deceive Oiwa and Osode into believing that they will avenge the two deaths. Iemon reunites with Oiwa, and Naosuke enters into a common-law marriage with Osode.
Our impression of Chikanobu's triptych is especially fine and very well preserved, with tasteful application of the bright Meiji-period colors.
- Bruce Coats: Chikanobu: Modernity and nostalgia in Japanese Prints. Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2006.
- Leiter, Samuel: New Kabuki Encyclopedia — A Revised Adaptation of Kabuki jiten. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1997, p. 651. [NKE]
- Newland, Amy Reigle: Time present and time past: Images of a forgotten master, Toyohara Kunichika 1835-1900. Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 1999, pp. 7 and 33 (endnote 5).