Utagawa Toyohiro (歌川豊広) (artist 1773 – 1828)
Asahina [朝比奈] trying to separate rice cakes at New Year's
20.75 in x 8 in (Overall dimensions) color woodblock print
Signed: Toyohiro ga (豊廣画)
Collector's seal - lower right: burondo
Harvard Art Museums
Rijksmuseum - another print from this group - Asahina as a Harugoma dancer
Rijksmuseum - another print from this group - Asahina holding a bat and mask of Okame
Carnegie Museum of Art Nagaban yoko-e surimono from the annual set issued as New Year greeting by the poet and entertainer Sukuragawa Jihinari [桜川慈悲成] from 1797 to 1833. This design depicts Ichikawa Danjūrō VII in the role of the villain Asahina. The seal of the Blondeau collection at bottom right.
"Between 1797 and 1833, the well-known poet and entertainer Sakuragawa Jihinari (1761-1833) who was an especially devout admirer of the Danjūrōs, commissioned at New Year's time an artist - usually Toyohiro - to design a long greeting card. The composition of the cards remained remarkably consistent over the years, even when Jihinari himself did the last five or six in the series after Toyohiro's death in 1828. Asahina, a villainous character in one or another of the Soga Brothers cycle of plays which were particularly associated with the Danjūrōs, is always represented entangled in some difficult situation. In the one shown here he is trying to separate two mochi cakes, made of a rice paste which is uncommonly stick;y. To his right is a tray with the customary New Year's properties; fern leaves, a lobster, and a citron. In the inscription to the right Jihinari takes pain to point out, first, that the year is 1827, and that this is the thirtieth installment in the series. It is probably also Toyohiro's last. [The bold type is ours.]
Quoted from: Art of the Surimono by Theodore Bowie, Indiana University Art Museum, 1979, p. 63.
"This print [another one in this series - but applicable here] belongs to a somewhat unusual series in that it was not published all at once, but was issued one print per year. It appears to have been an initiative of the poet Sakuragawa Jihinari (1761-1837?). Calculating back, it seems he started the series in 1798 and continued issuing designs for more than 50 years. The first fifteen or so were possibly designed by Jihinari himself. He contracted Utagawa Toyohiro (1773-1829) to make the designs for the following group, to which this and the following print belong. After Toyohiro died at the end of 1829, having finished his desgn for the New Year of 1830, Jihinari made the designs for a number of years, until Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) took over. The annotations of Jihinari's age in the design he created in the 1830s have led us to adopt a different year for his death than is used in most reference works: 1837 instead of 1833... This is not the only serial publication of New Year's surimono of this type..."
Quoted from: Surimono in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam by Matthi Forrer, p. 107.
The lobster or ebi in the lower left of this print is said to have been a symbol of longevity because its antennas are reminiscent of an old man with long whiskers. If the lobster was originally red, but has faded, it may also have been colored that way in the belief that red helped to fight off evil spirits which included diseases like smallpox.
The figure of Asahina is wearing a kamahige (鎌髭) or scythe beard which is grown in the shape of a scythe. Rather than a proper beard it is made up of sideburns and a moustache. In a September, 1995 issue of Andon Robert Schaap made a reference to the white paper protrusions coming off the back of Asahina's head. They are chikara-gami (力紙) symbolizing strength and masculinity. It should be noted that chikara-gami is also used but in a different way in sumo ceremonies. Chikara can mean strength, energy or power combined with gami which means paper.
Who was the collector Paul Blondeau?
Very little is known of this man, Paul-Jerome Blondeau. No one knows his birthdate, nor exactly when he died, but we do know that he was a discerning collector of East Asian art and especially by his assembly of Japanese woodblock prints that have entered so many prominent institutions and private collections. He was believed to have been born in Paris and studied art there with Tony Robert-Fleury and perhaps even Jules Lefebvre at the Académie Julian. After that he moved to Rolleboise which is about 45 miles northeast of Paris on the Seine, where he shared a studio with the American Daniel Ridgeway Knight and his son. One source said that he may have attended the weekly gatherings of Siegfried Bing (1838–1905), where he joined like-minded enthusiasts for East Asian art.
surimono - 摺物 (genre)
Asahina Saburō (朝比奈三郎) (role)
Soga brothers (曾我兄弟) (genre)