Signed: Toyokuni ga
Publisher mark: Shimizu
Series: Beauties of the Latest Fashion Compared with the Beauty of Flowers (Tosei Bijin), from Flower Playing Cards (Hana-awase)
Very good impression, colour and condition.
A rare print, an example of aizuri-e
Another impression of this print is at the Brooklyn Museum (accession number 76.151.14)
In the Edo period (1600-1868) serious economic crises hit Japan intermittently and the bakufu (the Tokugawa shogunate) issued, periodically, regulatory edicts in an attempt to raise funds, to cut spending and to encourage thrift. These decrees were also frequently aimed at raising moral standards, and ukiyo-e – related as it was to the less esteemed merchant class – became one of the prime targets of the government. The bakufu viewed the widespread appeal and production of ukiyo-e as a barometer of the excesses of the period, and also as a potential instrument which could be used to satirize the establishment. Prohibitions were placed on paper quality, pigments, the number of blocks to be used, as well as subject matter. Nonetheless resourceful publishers, artists and artisans, were quick to find ways of evading them. In this way ukiyo-e periodically underwent a change, usually resuming its original form after the relaxation of the edicts, but having added further techniques and imagery to its repertoire. Two examples are the benigirai-e (red-hating pictures) and aizuri-e (prints produced almost entirely in blue) which were the outcome of edicts limiting colours on prints and books. Aizuri-e were issued in response to the Tempo Reforms of the early 1840s (Tempo era, 1830-44), and reached, in some cases, a high degree of sophistication, using as many as five blocks with varying hues of blue and only the smallest area of, usually, red.
Toyoshige was a pupil of Toyokuni I (1769-1825), the head of the Utagawa school and later married his master's daughter. Until 1826 he used the name Toyoshige. After the death of Toyokuni I he became the new head of the Utagawa school. This infuriated Kunisada who thought he was a better ukiyo-e designer and therefore he should be the head of the school. The conflict between Kunisada and Toyokuni's son-in-law was ultimately solved in 1835 when Toyokuni II died. After his death Kunisada became the new head of the Utagawa school and proudly called himself Toyokuni.