Utagawa Toyokuni
| Old Eijudō Hibino at Seventy-one (Portrait of the Publisher Nishimuraya Yohachi)

Signed: Toyokuni ga; Publisher’s seal: Eiju han, logo and kakihan (Nishimuraya Yohachi); ōban, 38.0 x 25.0 cm; nishiki-e

New Year’s print for 1799, presumably a private commission. It shows the 71-year-old Nishimuraya Yohachi, in winter clothing, reciting a nō text for New Year. The pattern of his kimono and cloak features the symbol for long life ju and on the screen behind the bedding the three omens of good fortune in a New Year’s dream are depicted: Fuji, a falcon and an eggplant. This is one of the few ichimai-e of the 18th century to feature neither a bijin nor an actor.

Gookin (Sotheby’s, London, 1910); John Mellor (Sotheby’s, London, July 1963)
Riese Collection #100

This print is extremely interesting for being one of the few single-sheet prints in the history of the 18th century ukiyo-e with a portrait which is neither that of a courtesan nor an actor. The publisher is identified by name in the left corner on the print, and sits before a lacquer stand decorated with the mitsu tomoe, triple-comma-shaped, emblem of his enterprise, which is also repeated above his firm’s seal, in the lower right-hand corner. The stand supports an open book. From Eijudō’s posture, and the way he holds his fan upon his lap, it is clear that this is a book of Nō plays which he is about to start reciting, in an elegant, albeit conventional, gesture to the New Year. He is kneeling on his bedding. Behind him is a painted screen decorated with the three emblems mentioned in the poem above:

Ichi Fuji ni
Fuji, first

ni taka iro yoshi
secondly a hawk, and third

mitsu nasubi
an eggplant fair of hue.

This popular, anonymous verse, lists the three Lucky Dreams, the images that, if dreamed on New Year’s Eve, would ensure happiness and prosperity in the year to come.

Mr. Edmonds, the cataloguer at Sotheby’s before the Second World War seems to have been the first to suggest, in a catalogue of 1912, that Eijudō was born in 1729 and would therefore be seventy-one by Japanese reckoning, in 1799. 1799 is a plausible date for the print, but Edmunds cited no source for his information about the year of Eijudō’s birth, and no recent Japanese scholar has proposed a date. The only reliable biographical information about Eijudō seems to be that he was the second son of Urokogataza, an important publisher of lacquer prints in the second quarter of the century, and was adopted into the Nishimura family. The fact that a kakihan or paraphe, follows Eijudō’ signature suggests that he may have written out the poem in his own calligraphy, and may even have drawn the design on the screen.

The print is a late example of a benigirai-e, with its palette limited to purple, yellow, and two shades of green, excepting the conspicuous New Year’s sun above Mt. Fuji. Eijudō’s clothes are patterned with the character for Kotobuki, “long life” which, when read in its Chinese pronunciation, jug is the middle character of the publisher’s name. Japanese do not celebrate birthdays, but add a year to their age every New Year Day. Lacking a censor’s seal this portraits was probably intended as a New Year gift to friends and acquaintances of the publisher, serving the purpose that surimono did in the next generation.

Reproduced in: Ingelheim catalogue, no. 87.