Once abundant throughout western Japan (Kansai), kappazuri-e (stencil prints, literally, "oil-skin prints": 合羽摺絵) were often printed quickly and in small and cheap editions on thin paper, with fugitive pigments (generally more transparent than those used in nishiki-e — "brocade prints" or full-color prints, 浮世絵). These alternative productions were brushed through stencils after woodblocks were used to stake out the keyblock lines. It was only in Kyoto that kappazuri-e maintained fairly high standards and enjoyed a measure of respect up to around the midpoint of the nineteenth century.
The persistent support accorded such an antiquated technology, as compared with the predominant nishiki method, seems to have been due not only to economics, but also, ironically, to the very primitiveness of the stencil print's appearance. Japanese, in general, value evidence of the artisanal process in their crafts, and kappazuri-e reveal how they are made even more frankly than do nishiki-e. On top of that, Kyoto-ites are known for championing the rustic, imperfect aesthetic of the tea ceremony, and may have actually preferred the quieter, subtler-toned look of stencils to the relatively slick and flamboyant aspects of nishiki-e.
Sadly, almost all stencil prints have perished over time, due at least in part to the delicacy of the paper and the relatively low esteem in which they have been held when compared with nishiki-e (though they, too, were too often neglected). The vast majority of stencil-print designs are now very difficult to find, regardless of condition.
Having already pointed out the scarcity of nineteenth-century kappazuri-e, we will simply say that an ôban kappazuri-e vertical diptych is an immeasurably rare format that is virtually never available for acquisition. We know of no other kappazuri design from Kamigata in this format. In regard to Sadayoshi's print, we have found only two other impressions. One was donated to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in 1935 and is now in the museums' Achenbach Foundation (see FAMSF below). The other is in the collection of Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto. Moreover, although non-theatrical designs (such as the present example) occupy a more solid position within the overall production of kappazuri-e than within nishiki-e, actor prints nevertheless constitute the overwhelmingly dominant subject in kappazuri-e.
Our print was once mounted as a hanging scroll. The ichimonji (narrow border or fabric immediately above and below the main work:一文字) remains partially intact along the top.
Considering the great rarity of our charming bijin, this vertical diptych kappazuri-e must surely count as one of the most exceptional prints we have ever offered.
This impression comes from the much-admired Martin Levitz collection, New York City. Some of the Levitz prints were used to illustrate Schwaab's Osaka Prints (1989).
References: FAMSF (acc. no. 54755.1057)