Flowers of Edo: A Collection of Famous Places by Utagawa Kunisada

Flowers of Edo: A Collection of Famous Places by Utagawa Kunisada
September 9, 2013 Robyn Buntin of Honolulu
Flowers of Edo: Asakusa by Utagawa Kunisada

Flowers of Edo: Asakusa by Utagawa Kunisada

We’re happy to present the complete series of “Flowers of Edo” by Kunisada.  In most cases, woodblock prints are acquired one by one so we were delighted to come across this entire collection which has all of the prints from this series.  It’s fascinating to study each print and the various images that the artists composed together based on homophones and homonyms.  This series allowed the artists to display their knowledge of literature and history as well as their artistic talent.

The Ukiyo-e print series, Edo no Hana Meisho-e translates as The Flowers of Edo: A Collection of Famous Places.  The series ran from the 12th month of 1862 to the 1st month of 1865. “Flowers of Edo” was a phrase synonymous with “The Best of….”.   Each print in this series features a particular district of Edo (modern day Tokyo) through landscape, poetry, history, and related Kabuki plays.  This phrase was also used as a metaphor for the many fires that erupted in Edo, so the title cartouche includes the identifying number of the fire brigade entrusted to protect that particular district. What makes this series especially unique is the number of artists who collaborated in the design.  A total of twenty-one artists contributed to the series! 

Flowers Of Edo: Imai , Mikawadai & Akasaka by Utagawa Kunisada

Flowers Of Edo: Imai , Mikawadai & Akasaka

Each print is done in the harimaze format, which means that the print is divided into separate sections meant to be cut up.  However, in this case, the district of Edo which is featured in each print is the common thread tying each section into one.

Flowers of Edo: Nezu by Utagawa Kunisada

Flowers of Edo: Nezu by Utagawa Kunisada
There were a total of five artists who collaborated on this print. The kabuki actor portrait of Enoki Juro as the tattooed fireman Kawabata Denkichi is by Kunisada/Toyokuni II. The top portion is by Kunihisa II and the firetower is by Yoshitora. The scene of the temple gate and roofs is by Shigekiyo and the acrobatic firemen with the ladder is by Yoshitoshi.

Each print contains:

  1. title cartouche
  2. landscape
  3. a song or story
  4. a kabuki actor portrait.  The Japanese’ fondness for using puns and the double entendre ties each part of the print in a witty and subtly humorous manner.  This series allowed the artists to display their knowledge of literature and history as well as their artistic talent.

We were very fortunate to obtain this group of prints which are in excellent condition, except for minor worm holes.  The colors have remained so vibrant that it is hard to believe that they are 150 years old.  It’s so exciting to get a glimpse of life in the final years of the Edo period (1603-1868).   For a very detailed explanation of each print, please go to:  Simon Henry, “The Flowers of Edo, Aspects of the Edo-no-Hana Meisho-e Print Series.”

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