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Biography: Kunishige (國重)

Utagawa Kagematsu 4/1835 Gado as Oguri Hangan
Arashi Rikaku II (嵐璃珏) as I no Hayata (猪の早太)
Yorimasa nue monogatari (頼政鵺物語)
Chikugo Theater, Osaka, 10/1851 Carver/Printer/Publisher/Print-seller: Shinsuke (新助)

Utagawa Kagematsu signature Kunishige (國重 act. c. 1847-1855) is one of three ukiyo-e artists from Kamigata (Osaka-Kyoto region) who signed their names with the same ideographs. Active for less than a decade, he seems to have produced roughly 25 actor prints, all but one in chûban-size (中判 approx. 250 x 180 mm); the remaining design, from 3/1853, was in the larger ôban format (大判 approx. 370 x 280 mm). It has been suggested that this Kunishige might have been a student of Ganjôsai Kunihiro (丸丈齋國廣), although that artist disappeared from printmaking around 1841. A more likely mentor might have been Ryûsai Shigeharu (who signed as Kunishige 國重 in 1821-26), who was active until around 1849. Also, this Kunishige appears to be different from yet another artist signing as Kunishige (國重) circa 1832, who was a more likely a student of Kunihiro. Otherwise, all we know are the few prints that he signed in the late 1840s through the mid 1850s.

An example of Kunishige's work is shown on the left. It depicts a character from the play Yorimasa nue monogatari (Tale of Yorimasa and the nue: 頼政鵺物語). The drama features the legend of Yorimasa slaying the mythical nue in 1153 — as recorded in the Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike: 平家物語) from the first quarter of the thirteenth century. Yorimasa, who was a formidable archer, spied on the roof of the emperor's palace a strange winged-creature with an ape's head, tiger's claws, badger's (tanuki) back, and snake-head tail. As the emperor was suffering from a life-threatening illness, Yorimasa suspected that the nue was the cause. A single arrow took down the beast, whereupon Yorimasa's retainer (I no Hayata Hironao 猪の早太寛直 also known as Tadazumi) delivered the coup de grâce with his sword. In Kunishige's design we see the actor Arashi Rikaku II (嵐璃珏) as I no Hayata (猪の早太) adorned in full samurai regalia. This is a deluxe print with metallic pigments and richly saturated colors.

Kunishige's names and signatures

None recorded

Art names (geimei):
Kunishige (國重)

Art pseudonyms ():
None recorded

The information on this page was adapted from John Fiorillo's web page about Kunishige: