27th May, 2022 13:00

Fine Japanese Art

 
Lot 146
 

146

JUGYOKU: AN IMPORTANT AND MASTERFUL WOOD NETSUKE OF THE FEMALE GHOST OIWA WITH CHILD, COMMISSIONED FOR THE FAMOUS KABUKI ACTOR ONOE BAIKO

Sold for €20,224

including Buyer's Premium


Lot details

By Ryukosai Jugyoku, signed Jugyoku saku and with inscription
Japan, Edo (Tokyo), c. 1830, Edo period (1615-1868)

Superbly carved as the ghost Oiwa-san emerging from ghastly flames, her body twisting and robes flowing. Her bony fingers are finely shaped, one hand is cradling an infant which is nestled into her loose-fitted robe, gently pressed against her stomach, one of the baby’s hands grabbing one of her breasts. Note the subtly incised rib cage and neck bones. Oiwa is looking at the child with motherly compassion, the infant in return looks up at the ghost yearningly. The superbly carved backside shows neatly incised trailing hair and a grave post (sotoba) engulfed by more ghastly flames and the minutely incised inscription as well as the signature JUGYOKU saku [made by Jugyoku].

The inscription reads: 梅幸丈好應、寿玉作 “Baiko-jo konomi ni ojite, Jugyoku saku” [Made by Jugyoku by the request of Master Onoe Baiko” The word “Jo 丈” is an honorific suffix given to Kabuki actors. According to the inscription in the back, this netsuke was commissioned by the famous Kabuki actor Onoe Baiko – there are many generations of the same name but it most likely refers to Onoe Kikugoro III (active as Baiko III).

This netsuke depicts a legendary and controversial scene in the fifth and final act of the famous kabuki play Yotsuya Kaidan by Tsuruya Nanboku IV. In this scene, Oiwa emerges in the form of an Ubume from a consecration cloth, holding her child in her arms. An Ubume is a type of ghost associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Depicting Oiwa as an Ubume was considered highly audacious, because Oiwa had murdered her own child. With depictions of ubume being ubiquitous at the time, the unusual twist had an immense impact on the audience, and it ultimately defined the stardom of Onoe Kikugorō III (1784-1849), who was the only actor ever to play Oiwa in it.

The scene was dropped after the first production in 1825 amid fierce debate and replaced with a special effect in which Oiwa emerges from a burning lantern. For further reading on the cultural significance of this scene see Shimazaki, Satoko (2011) The End of the "World": Tsuruya Nanboku IV's Female Ghosts and Late-Tokugawa Kabuki.

HEIGHT 7.8 cm

Condition: Excellent condition.
Provenance: From a noted Swiss private collection.

Tsuruya Nanboku IV, the playwright of the famous Yotsuya Kaidan, wrote the role of Oiwa specifically for his friend Onoe Kikugoro III (Baiko III), who played the lead role during this famous kabuki play’s debut in 1825. It is most likely that this netsuke was commissioned both as a as a talisman (engimono 縁起物), because kabuki actors playing ghosts-roles were thought to be haunted and accident-prone, and as a commemorative gift to remind of the legendary scene in the fifth and final act which had only been performed in the introducing season of the play.

Onoe Kikugoro III (1784-1849) was one of the most talented actors of his age. He was adopted into the Onoe lineage of actors and made his debut at the age of four under the name Onoe Eisaburo I. After playing the parts of young men, he assumed the name of his adoptive father in 1809, becoming Onoe Matsusuke II. In 1814 he appeared as Onoe Baiko, and a year later his reputation was such that he became the first actor for almost 30 years to succeed to the Kikugoro name, becoming Onoe Kikugoro III, although he retained the name Baiko to sign his poetry. He is best remembered for his alliance with the playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV, who in 1825 wrote the role of Oiwa in Yotsuya Kaidan, the best known of all Kabuki ghost plays, specifically for him.

Yotsuya Kaidan, the story of Oiwa and Tamiya Iemon, is a tale of betrayal, murder and ghostly revenge. Arguably the most famous Japanese ghost story of all time, it has been adapted for film over 30 times and continues to be of a major influence on Japanese horror stories of the present day.

Ryukosai Jugyoku, the carver of this netsuke, was likely provided with an immense challenge, given the notorious prominence of this specific depiction of Oiwa. A generous commission, and being able to work for one of the biggest kabuki-stars of all times, must have had a stimulating effect on the artist. Arguably, he eventually surpassed himself with the present work, which certainly must be considered as this carver’s masterpiece.

Not only is the present lot exemplary of the very finest carvings of its era, and by one of its most talented artists, but the absolutely unique historic angle, confirmed by an inscription, makes this sublime work of art one of the most important netsuke to ever appear on the market.

 

By Ryukosai Jugyoku, signed Jugyoku saku and with inscription
Japan, Edo (Tokyo), c. 1830, Edo period (1615-1868)

Superbly carved as the ghost Oiwa-san emerging from ghastly flames, her body twisting and robes flowing. Her bony fingers are finely shaped, one hand is cradling an infant which is nestled into her loose-fitted robe, gently pressed against her stomach, one of the baby’s hands grabbing one of her breasts. Note the subtly incised rib cage and neck bones. Oiwa is looking at the child with motherly compassion, the infant in return looks up at the ghost yearningly. The superbly carved backside shows neatly incised trailing hair and a grave post (sotoba) engulfed by more ghastly flames and the minutely incised inscription as well as the signature JUGYOKU saku [made by Jugyoku].

The inscription reads: 梅幸丈好應、寿玉作 “Baiko-jo konomi ni ojite, Jugyoku saku” [Made by Jugyoku by the request of Master Onoe Baiko” The word “Jo 丈” is an honorific suffix given to Kabuki actors. According to the inscription in the back, this netsuke was commissioned by the famous Kabuki actor Onoe Baiko – there are many generations of the same name but it most likely refers to Onoe Kikugoro III (active as Baiko III).

This netsuke depicts a legendary and controversial scene in the fifth and final act of the famous kabuki play Yotsuya Kaidan by Tsuruya Nanboku IV. In this scene, Oiwa emerges in the form of an Ubume from a consecration cloth, holding her child in her arms. An Ubume is a type of ghost associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Depicting Oiwa as an Ubume was considered highly audacious, because Oiwa had murdered her own child. With depictions of ubume being ubiquitous at the time, the unusual twist had an immense impact on the audience, and it ultimately defined the stardom of Onoe Kikugorō III (1784-1849), who was the only actor ever to play Oiwa in it.

The scene was dropped after the first production in 1825 amid fierce debate and replaced with a special effect in which Oiwa emerges from a burning lantern. For further reading on the cultural significance of this scene see Shimazaki, Satoko (2011) The End of the "World": Tsuruya Nanboku IV's Female Ghosts and Late-Tokugawa Kabuki.

HEIGHT 7.8 cm

Condition: Excellent condition.
Provenance: From a noted Swiss private collection.

Tsuruya Nanboku IV, the playwright of the famous Yotsuya Kaidan, wrote the role of Oiwa specifically for his friend Onoe Kikugoro III (Baiko III), who played the lead role during this famous kabuki play’s debut in 1825. It is most likely that this netsuke was commissioned both as a as a talisman (engimono 縁起物), because kabuki actors playing ghosts-roles were thought to be haunted and accident-prone, and as a commemorative gift to remind of the legendary scene in the fifth and final act which had only been performed in the introducing season of the play.

Onoe Kikugoro III (1784-1849) was one of the most talented actors of his age. He was adopted into the Onoe lineage of actors and made his debut at the age of four under the name Onoe Eisaburo I. After playing the parts of young men, he assumed the name of his adoptive father in 1809, becoming Onoe Matsusuke II. In 1814 he appeared as Onoe Baiko, and a year later his reputation was such that he became the first actor for almost 30 years to succeed to the Kikugoro name, becoming Onoe Kikugoro III, although he retained the name Baiko to sign his poetry. He is best remembered for his alliance with the playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV, who in 1825 wrote the role of Oiwa in Yotsuya Kaidan, the best known of all Kabuki ghost plays, specifically for him.

Yotsuya Kaidan, the story of Oiwa and Tamiya Iemon, is a tale of betrayal, murder and ghostly revenge. Arguably the most famous Japanese ghost story of all time, it has been adapted for film over 30 times and continues to be of a major influence on Japanese horror stories of the present day.

Ryukosai Jugyoku, the carver of this netsuke, was likely provided with an immense challenge, given the notorious prominence of this specific depiction of Oiwa. A generous commission, and being able to work for one of the biggest kabuki-stars of all times, must have had a stimulating effect on the artist. Arguably, he eventually surpassed himself with the present work, which certainly must be considered as this carver’s masterpiece.

Not only is the present lot exemplary of the very finest carvings of its era, and by one of its most talented artists, but the absolutely unique historic angle, confirmed by an inscription, makes this sublime work of art one of the most important netsuke to ever appear on the market.

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