Exhibitions: Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print, 1770–1900

Utagawa Toyokuni: Color woodcut

Utagawa Toyokuni (1769–1825). Actors Iwai Kumesaburō I and Ichikawa Yaozō III as Ohan and Chōemon, circa 1800. From an untitled series of actors in nagaban format. Color woodcut. Chazen Museum of Art, Gift of Linda and John Comstock, 2003.48.11

This print is in a rare, oversized format known as nagaban. It shows the two principle characters of the popular kabuki play Love Suicide of Ohan and Chōemon at the Katsura River, which tells the true story of a doomed relationship between a thirty-eight-year-old silk merchant and his fourteen-year-old neighbor. The image of a man carrying his lover, and the presence of a willow tree in the background, refer to an episode in one of Japan’s great literary classics, the Tales of Ise, in which a future empress elopes with a poet.