Artist: Utagawa Kunisada II (二代歌川国貞)

Print: Descending Geese at Katada (Katada Rakugan - 堅田落雁) from the series Eight Views of Ōmi (Ōmi hakkei no uchi - 近江八景之内)

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Dates: created,circa 1847 - 1848
Dimensions: 30.0 in,14.0 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: color woodblock print; ōban triptych

Signed: Kunimasa aratame nisei Kunisada ga
Publisher: Tsutaya Kichizō (Marks 556 - seal 03-004)
Censor: Muramatsu and Fuku

Related links: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Diet Library - right panel; National Diet Library - center panel; National Diet Library - left panel; Google map - Lake Biwa - scene toward the southern edge, not far from Kyoto;

Physical description:

This elegant triptych offers several clues to the theme(s) of this scene. First there is the title: Eight Views of Ōmi. This has its origins in the 11th century Chinese paintings and poetry featuring the Hsiao and Hsiang Rivers near Lake Tung T'ing in Hunan Province. Long before the Eight Views appeared as woodblock prints in Japan they were the subject of paintings referencing this foreign theme. By the late 17th the first crudely composed woodblock prints appeared. After that many famous artists - everyone from Harunobu to Hiroshige - dealt with this group either directly as landscapes or indirectly as mitate images which only alluded to the originals sites, even if often somewhat obscurely.

Geographically the location of this triptych has us looking toward the western edge of Lake Biwa. Included in this view are not only the titled 'geese descending' against a nighttime moon on the left, but also boats - fishing at night - use the zoom tool to see the fiery baskets on extended poles used to draw their catch to the surface of the water - and possibly 'the Evening Bell at Mii Temple' somewhere on the mountain which frames the upper part of the woman on the far right.

Another totally different theme deals mainly with the male figure in the center. He probably represents Mitsuuji, the main character in one of the mid-19th century versions of the Nisei Murasaki inaka Genji, 'A False Murasaki's Rustic Genji.' He is a modern updated stand-in for 'the Shining Prince.' The most obvious give-away of his identity is his shrimp's-tail hairstyle. However, most striking feature is his robe decorated with gorgeous hydrangea flowers which goes from purple at the top to yellow at the bottom. Perhaps the use of purple here is another homage to the Lady Murasaki (ca. 973-1014), the author of the original Tale of Genji and whose name 'Murasaki' means 'purple.'

The richness of the man's clothing and his general demeanor betray his nobility. He is wearing two elegant swords. The hilts show finely crafted metalwork combined with samegawa or ray skin grips. The longer sword sticks ever-so-slightly out the bottom of the Mitsuuji's robe on his right side. This is another subtle element which could be easily overlooked.

At the bottom of the woman's kimono in the left-hand panel are Genji mon which appear to correspond to those used for Chapter One of The Tale of Genji, Kiritsubo or 'The Paulownia Court'. This is confirmed by the paulownia crest which decorates the same area either blue or gray leaves with spikes of lavendar (murasaki) flowers.

The geta worn by each of the figures is different in each panel. On the right, the woman and the child wear black (lacquer?) geta; the male figure in the center, it would appear, is wearing wooden getting where the grain of the wood is made to appear prominently; while the woman on the left is wearing beautiful and elegant white geta. The child and the man are wearing tabi or Japanese socks with split toes, like mittens except for the feet. The woman at both ends have bare feet. The are wonderful and subtle differences which only add to the beauty of this triptych by showing a loving attention to even the smallest details.

The teeth on the woman on the right are blackened, as was the fashion. We don't know about the woman on the left because her lips are closed.

The colors of this triptych are remarkably fresh. The pink of the scroll that Mitsuuji is holding immediately draws the eye. A closer examination shows that it is written on paper which is decorated with a beautiful design of phoenixes in flight. This is an unnecessary feature, but one which shows the care and skill of the artist, the carver, the printer and the publisher. A consummate touch.


There is another print by Kunisada II of the 'Rustic Genji', with the same shrimp's-tail hairstyle, in the Achenbach Foundation in San Francisco. It is one panel of a triptych and shows the main character in an interior setting. Outside in the middle ground is lake with numerous boats fishing at night each using the same method of a basket on the end of a long pole where a fire burns brightly.