One of about fifty kacho-e (bird and flower prints) in the shikishiban (almost square) format designed by Tsukioka Kōgyo for the publisher Daikokuya (Matsuki Heikichi) around the turn of 20th century.
This print of fireflies is incredibly unique; an almost entirely black print with the darker silhouettes of grass leaves, small fireflies in fine detail light up the scene in their tiny spaces. Amazing in the delicate details and bokashi shading.
This is an evocative riverine scene of fireflies (hotaru) above reeds. The theme of fireflies is a traditional one, seen, for example. in Chapter 45, “Lady of the Bridge” (Hashihime), of the Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji) by Murasaki Shikibu (act. c. 1000). The events described in that chapter take place at a country villa in Uji, southeast of Kyoto.
In another interpretation, fireflies are said to represent the ghosts of the Tira (Heike) and Minamoto (Genji) warriors killed during the civil war of the late 12th century. These events are recounted in the medieval military epic, Heiki monogatari (Tale of the Heiki), which contains an account of a violent battle at Uji Bridge. These ghosts are believed to return to Uji Bridge each year, when they enact a hotaru kassen, or “firefly battle.”
Source: The Beauty of Silence: Nō and Nature Prints by Tsukioka Kōgyo (1869-1927), Robert Schaap & J. Thomas Rimer, Hotei Publishing, 2010, p. 152.
The Woodblock Prints
This woodblock print is in excellent condition. Gorgeous color, no discolorations at all. Clean verso (a little pencil writing on the bottom edge of the verso). No margins, but that seems to be the standard for many of these shikishiban 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.