Tsuru Kame (Crane and Turtle in the Moon Palace) - In ancient China, a New Year celebration is being held at the Emperor’s palace. A palace official serving the emperor appears and announces the entrance of the Emperor into the Moon Palace. The aristocrats within his court are all encouraged to come to see His Majesty. When the emperor comes at the Gate of Eternal Youth to see the shining sun of the New Year, all of his people raise their voices in celebration of the New Year, echoing even to Heaven. The garden of the palace is filled with gold, silver and gems and appears exquisite. In this atmosphere filled with joy and beauty, the Senior Minister of His Imperial Majesty steps forward and encourages His Majesty to have the crane and tortoise dance to music as happened in the past and hold a music party afterwards at the Moon Palace. When a crane and tortoise dance to celebrate His Majesty’s longevity, the delighted emperor himself dances as well. After the aristocrats have also danced and enlivened the gathering, the emperor gets on a palanquin to return to the Hall of Everlasting Life.
Noh (能, Nō, derived from the Sino-Japanese word for "skill" or "talent") is a major form of classical Japanese dance-drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Noh is often based on tales from traditional literature with a supernatural being transformed into human form as a hero narrating a story. Noh integrates masks, costumes and various props in a dance-based performance, requiring highly trained actors and musicians. Emotions are primarily conveyed by stylized conventional gestures while the iconic masks represent the roles such as ghosts, women, children, and the elderly. Written in late middle Japanese, the text "vividly describes the ordinary people of the twelfth to sixteenth centuries". Having a strong emphasis on tradition rather than innovation, Noh is extremely codified and regulated by the iemoto system. Noh was seen as an upper-class/nobility version of Kabuki Theatre, but in the later part of the 20th century has developed a new-found audience in Japan and abroad.
Kogyo's Vertical Noh Prints
Shortly before his death in early 1927, Kogyo completed work on his masterpiece series, "One Hundred Noh Dramas." This beautiful series took several years to complete, and reflects Kogyo's consummate skill in drawing and composition. The Noh Theater in Japan is known for its spare stage decoration and sumptuous costumes, and Kogyo's minimalist designs reflect this. Delicate patterning, lush coloring, and embellishments such as silver and gold mica and embossing capture the rich costumes worn by the actors. The soft watercolor-like backgrounds provide a painterly contrast to the carefully detailed figures. These wonderful prints required extreme care on the part of the carvers and printers to bring Kogyo's vision to life. The great Noh print master Kogyo reached the pinnacle of his career with these wonderful, vertical Noh designs. His fantastic series is a great favorite of collectors and a rare and desirable set.
The Woodblock Prints
This triptych is rarely seen sold together; pieces were often separated and sold as standalones. All three obans are in very good condition with rich colors, no discoloration. There is residue of tape on the verso from being affixed to matting and each other. Vibrant colors enhanced with patterning in metallic inks. Close inspection of the prints allows the viewer to see the woodgrain of the blocks within the prints.
About the Artist
Tsukioka Kōgyo (月岡 耕漁, Tsukioka Kōgyo), sometimes called Kōgyo Sakamaki (坂巻 耕漁, Sakamaki Kōgyo), was a Japanese artist of the Meiji period (April 18, 1869 – February 25, 1927). He was a student and adopted son of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, and also studied with Ogata Gekkō. Although Kōgyo sometimes painted other subjects, most of his career centered around pictures of Japanese noh theatre, either as large-scale paintings or colored woodblock prints. Many of the latter were published in series and sold as multi-volume sets. Some sets, such as Nōgaku zue, have been preserved as albums in their original bindings, including accordion-style bindings known as orihon, while other sets such as Nōga taikan, were issued in sewn bindings known as yamato toji.
Unlike most ukiyo-e prints, his works have an almost painterly quality and use gold and silver for the Noh costume embellishments. Kogyo's woodblock prints required very skilled engravers and printers to produce. Kogyo died in Tokyo at the age of 58.