Kunichika Toyohara, Kabuki Play, Shibaraku


Artist: Kunichika Toyohara (1835-1900)
Title: Kabuki play, Shibaraku
Publisher: Akiyama Buemon
Date: 1895
Size: (L) 37.5 x 25.2 (C) 37.6 x 25.2 (R) 37.7 x 25.1 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

Japanese kabuki theatre started out as a type of dance and evolved into a theatre play, where in order to make a more dramatic and memorable performance the actors wear decorative costumes and apply make-up. Thus, Japanese kabuki is a type of stylised dance-drama.


The kabuki play 'Shibaraku' (Wait a moment!) was traditionally performed at the opening of the theatre season when the 'kaomise' (presenting of the faces) took place. This event was also an excellent opportunity for the leading actor to highlight himself. 'Shibaraku' was included in the favourite 'Kabuki juhachiban' (Eighteen kabuki plays), a collection compiled by Ichikawa Danjuro VII in 1840. The original version was written by Ichikawa Danjuro I and was first performed at the Nakamura-za theatre in Edo in 1692. The typical costume for this role shows the crest of the Danjuro family of kabuki actors, three squares on a burgundy coloured cloth. The make-up also stands out, with distinct patterns of red striped emphasising the facial muscles. These attributes combined with the actor's stance during the performance radiate a supernatural impression of great strength.

Kunichika Toyohara (1835 - 1900)

One of the last great masters of ukiyo-e, Kunichika was inspired by the plays, actors and customs of kabuki theatre. His colourful prints are records of a long lost, decadent underworld of Edo. As a young man, he studied with the ukiyo-e artist Chikanobu, from whom he received his artist name. He then apprenticed under Kunisada and began to produce actor prints in the Utagawa style, though he never used the Utagawa name. Unlike most artists of the period, he made use of strong reds and dark purples, often as background colours, rather than the softer colours that had previously been used. These new colours were made of aniline dyes imported in the Meiji period from Germany. When portraying people he only occasionally showed figures wearing Western dress, despite its growing popularity in Japan. He is also one of the best known artists to have designed a great number of prints featuring tattoos, a genre made popular earlier in Edo period by Kuniyoshi Utagawa.

More Information
Print FormatTriptych
ArtistKunichika Toyohara (1835 - 1900)
SubjectSamurai & Male, Kabuki Theatre
Size(L) 37.5 x 25.2 (C) 37.6 x 25.2 (R) 37.7 x 25.1 cm
Condition ReportLight soiling, minor spots and creases, slightly worn-out right edge of the left panel.
publisherAkiyama Buemon:1882-1920