Kitagawa Utamaro
Oume and Kumenosuke

Signed: Utamaro hitsu; Publisher’s seal: seihan and (logo) tomoe (Nishimuraya Yohachi); censor’s seal: kiwame, hanshin-e, ōban, 37.8 x 23.9 cm; nishiki-e with grey ground (nezumikira), gomazuri and fukibokashi

From ”Veracious Competition of Passionate Lovers” Standing behind the desperate Oume, who is about to be married against her will, is her true love Kumenosuke, a former novice from Mount Kōyasan, with a resigned expression on his face. The lovers are just about to commit suicide together. The tragic story provides the material for Chikamatsu’s (1653–1724) bunraku play Shiryū mannen sō. Utamaro drew numerous designs for this series, of which over twenty percent are known.

Mayuyama, Tōkyō (November 1962)
Riese Collection #71

Oume was the daughter of the owner of a general store in the village of Kamiya who fell in love with Kumesaburō, a young acolyte at the nearby temple of Kōyasan. When their liaison was discovered, Kumesaburō was banished into the mountains by his superiors, and Oume was sent by her father to Kyōto to earn her living there. The two lovers kept in communication with one another, and Kumesaburō stole down to Kyōto to visit his lover. Deciding, however, that they would never be allowed to marry, they resolved to commit suicide together, hoping that this extreme expression of their sincerity and love for one another would allow them to be reborn in less difficult circumstances wherein they might continue their love.

Jitsu means “fidelity” and “sincerity” and “truth”. Each print in this handsome series shows a pair of lovers, and one might suppose that each lover is trying to out-do the other in the expression of their love, while at the same time each couple is competing in the intensity and purity of their devotion with other couples in the series. Minakami means the “source”, “wellspring”, or “fountainhead”, and perhaps Utamaro was seriously proposing to the frivolous and often promiscuous purchasers of his prints that fidelity, not simple ecstasy, was the heart of love.
Eijudō was also the publisher of a series of double half-length portraits of actors with grey backgrounds, which bored the same publisher’s mark that appears here. These actor prints date from around 1798, and Utamaro’s set was probably published at this time.

Reproduced in: Ingelheim catalogue, no. 61.
Other impressions are reproduced in: Hillier, Utamaro, pl. 73.
Ledoux, Buncho to Utamaro, no. 39.
And elsewhere.