The play Ume no hatsuharu gojûsantsugi highlighted unusual happenings along the Tôkaidô Road. The featured actor, Onoe Kikugorô III, was an Edo star who periodically performed in Kamigata. For this production he put on display of his exceptional skills as a kaneru yakusha ("all-around actor") by performing seven roles.
Here we see Kikugorô in a choreographed fight scene (tachimawari), subduing one adversary by pressing his knee to the back of the attacker's neck while tossing another hapless enemy off the roof (his leg can be seen in the lower left corner). Kikugorô raises his long sword (katana) high above his head.
Very little is known about this artist. His family name was Kitagawa, and he also used the geimei (art names: 芸名) Ichiryûtei and Isshintei. He was active a few years before and a year after the start of the Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô Reforms: 天保改革) of 1842, edicts that virtually halted print production in Osaka for five years. Toyohide's prints date from 1838 to 1843. Here his signature appears within a toshidama-style cartouche ("New Year's jewel" or "New Year's gift," a type of year seal used as the crest of the Utagawa school of artists), suggesting a connection with the Edo-based artist Utagawa Kunisada (歌川國貞 later Toyokuni III 豊國 1786-1865), although his use of "Toyo" (豊) in his name precedes Kunisada's taking of the Toyokuni name in 1844 and thus suggests to some scholars that Toyohide might have had a connection with Utagawa Toyokuni I (歌川豊國 1769-1825) more than a decade before Toyohide's first known prints.
Toyohide's documented designs, which number only around 17, are infrequently encountered, even more so with very good color, as here. He worked most often with the publisher Honya Seisichi 本屋清七 (Honsei, 本清), producing 10 works, and primarly with three different theaters (Kado, Naka, Onishi). All but one design depict full-length figures (all ôban or "large" format, 大判), while a single chûban (中判) ôkubi-e ("large head" or bust portrait, 大首絵) is known.
This scarce design is cited in Kuroda and in IKBYS-III (see references below); it is otherwise unrecorded. In addition, actor prints (yakusha-e) from Kamigata featuring landscape views of Mt. Fuji in the distance, as here, are not often encountered.
References: KAM, p. 264(400); IKBYS-III, no. 213