National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Allan Myers AO and Maria Myers AO, 2012
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of The Gordon Darling Foundation
Like kabuki actors sumo wrestlers were popular celebrities with successful wrestlers becoming adored public heroes and the subjects of woodblock prints. Detailed polychrome prints were produced by the era’s leading artists and publishers to commemorate a tournament or display an individual wrestler’s fame and prowess. No weight restrictions or weight classes existed in sumo therefore weight gain was an essential part of sumo training and is seen as symbol of status and bravado for each wrestler. Leading wrestlers were skilfully depicted with their half naked bludging bodies filling the full sheet of paper to give a vivid expression of the wrestler’s awesome physique. Other images depict wrestlers adorned with swords and wearing the latest fashion of kimono with haori (coat) as a display of dandyism and their elevated social status.
Sumo prints were designed nearly exclusively by artists from Katsukawa School during the period circa 1775-1825. Then for the rest of the Edo period until 1868, and during the Meiji period (1868-1913), the Utagawa School became the major produces with the most productive artist of all being Utagawa Kunisada (Utagawa Toyokuni III).
The large triptych by Kunisada I (Toyokuni III) is titled New Edition Kanjin Sumo Tournament. Kanjin is the term given to ancient sumo that developed into the popular spectator sport. It also refers to charity sumo events that were held to raise money for the construction of a shrine, temple, bridge or public works project.