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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

(R) Nakamura Matsue III as Shiokumi Kofuji and (L) Nakamura Utaemon III as Konobei in Yukihira sonarematsu (Yukihira and the windswept pines along the seashore: 行平磯馴松), Kado no Shibai, Osaka
Shunkôsai Hokuei ga
Artist Seal: Shunkô (春江); Block Cutter: Surimono hori Kasuke (surimono cut by Kasuke)
No publisher seals
(H x W)
Ôban diptych nishiki-e
37.5 x 51.1 cm
Excellent (deluxe surimono-style edition with metallics and embossing)
Excellent color, very good condition (album backing, sheets joined, small vertical creases where chain lines pass through eboshi and gold fan, light smudge above signature, tiny worm hole near upper right and upper left edges
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry (Ref #HKE62)


Yukihira sonarematsu (Yukihira and windswept pines along the seashore: 行平磯馴松) was derived from the legend of Matsukaze, a fourteenth-century play. Matsukaze (松風) and Murasame (村雨), sisters making a living as shiokumi (salt gatherers: 潮汲み or 汐汲み) in Suma (須磨), fall in love with the exiled Heian-period courtier and poet Ariwara no Yukihira (在原行平). After Yukihira is allowed to leave the island, Matsukaze (her name means "Wind in the Pines") goes mad with grief and dances while wearing his robe and eboshi ("bird hat," a tall hat made of paper or silk, stiffened with black lacquer and secured by a silk cord, worn by male aristocrats of the imperial court: 烏帽子).


The dancer Kofuji performs as a shirabyôshi (literally "white rhythm": 白拍子). The early shirabyôshi were professional dancer-courtesans or itinerant prostitutes of the late Heian period to the sixteenth century who often worked among the upper classes by presenting a dance in a masculine costume of court robes and eboshi.

On the right sheet, the headnote (top right) reads: Kondo kojinno tsuizen o / tsutomuru tote okogamashiku mo (Though it is presumptuous of me, I offer this death-anniversary performance as a tribute to my ancester). This refers to Nakamura Matsue I (1742-86), Matsue III's predecessor. Matsue II (1786-1855) would change his geimei (stage name: 芸名) to Tomijûrô II soon after this production.

The poem on the right sheet reads: Tamukuru ya / sonare no matsu no / aki no koe (In memory of the deceased / the sounds of autumn sough / through pines on the beach). Signed "Tokiwa," Matsue's haimyô (poetry name: 俳名). The verse — typically self-effacing for occasions of this kind — suggests that compared with his illustrious namesake, Matsue III is blown about like pines (matsu:松) along the seashore.

The poem on the left sheet reads: Furû naru / hodo ni medetaki / kamiko kana (The more they age / the more auspicious / robes of paper.) Signed with Utaemon III's haimyô, "Baigyoku" (梅玉) and sealed with his medama (jewel eye). The reference to paper robes indicates that the lovers in the kabuki play have been reduced to poverty.

[Translations by John Carpenter*]

Even when considering Hokuei's stellar reputation as a designer of surimono-style prints, this composition stands out as exceptional. The renowned Kasuke cut the blocks.

References: IKB-I, p, 42; 1-484; KNP-6, p. 256; * Ann Yonemura (ed.), Masterful Illusions. Washington, DC: Sackler Gallery, 2002, p. 255.