Enjaku's (猿雀 active 1856-66) woodblock print designs survive in very small numbers (some are known in only a single impression) and are difficult to obtain. Although nothing is known about his biography, he is arguably the most important transitional artist entering the last phase of printmaking in Osaka just before the start of the Meiji period. He specialized in deluxe editions of ôkubi-e (large-head pictures: 大首絵) in chûban format. A remarkable 90 percent of his 152 known designs were first issued as jôzuri-e (deluxe or "top-quality" editions: 上摺絵).* Many were subsequently also published in namizuri-e ("ordinary printings": 並摺絵).
For more about this artist, see Enjaku Biography.
Wakagi no adanagusa (Notorious guises at the Wakagi: 和木仇名草) is a five-act sewamono ("everyday piece" or domestic drama: 世話物) written by Kiyomizu Sentôken Seishichi that premiered in 10/1855 at the Chikugo Theater, Osaka. The tale involves a search by Sakuragawa Ranchô (actually the samurai Ageha Chôzaburô in disguise) for an heirloom tea cannister belonging to his master, who is head of the Ishiyama clan. Ranchô becomes a taiko mochi (lit., "drum carrier," but more generally a male entertainer: 太鼓持 or 幇滞) in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter where he falls in love with the courtesan Konoito of the Wakagi brothel. However, Ranchô also discovers that the cannister is with one of Konoito's clients, Marigase Denzô, who exposes Ranchô's true identity. After suffering a beating, Ranchô goes mad with rage and kills Konoito, who has rebuked him in an effort to break off their tryst for his own good. Even so, she had already obtained the cannister for him and it is returned to the clan. Ranchô is also allowed to rejoin his lord's service.
The jôruri-style shamisen music from this type of play is called shinnai bushi (新内節) and, in fact, it is this play whose music is the most enduring and famous example. The music is still performed today, most frequently outside of kabuki stagings. The play (and its music) is often referred to simply as Ranchô.
The background of Enjaku's double-portrait chûban is printed with copper-rich brass metallics that simulate the luxurious gold leaf found on Japanese screen paintings. The other colors are made from expensive pigments that are typical for deluxe-style kamigata-e (prints made in the Kyoto-Osaka region). The diagonal arrangement of the actors as they strike their expressive poses or mie (見得) was a standard compositional device found throughout ukiyo-e actor portraiture, but it is set off here by the metallic background, endowing Enjaku's design with an air of sophistication and elegance.
This deluxe impression is finely preserved with excellent color. The large expanse of brass pigment simulating gold is unusual, even for Enjaku. Given the rarity of prints by this noteworthy artist, especially those related to performances at shrine theaters (as with our print), we find this to be a compelling and worthy design for acquisition not to be missed!
* See the monograph on Enjaku (the EOM reference below) by John Fiorillo and Hendrick Lühl, "Enjaku: An Osaka Master of the Deluxe Print during the Transition to the Final Period." Andon special issue, 135pp, Society for Japanese Arts, (Leiden), 2006.
- * EOM, no. 2.12, p. 98.
- IKBYS-IV, p. 152, no. 662.
- NKE, p. 686.
- See our Enjaku Biography.
- Also see https://viewingjapaneseprints.net/texts/ukiyoe/enjaku.html.