Kunichika Toyohara, Three Geisha in the Snow, Kabuki, Onnagata


Artist: Kunichika Toyohara (1835-1900)
Title: Three Geisha in the Snow
Publisher: Yamamura Kinzaburo
Date: 1877
Dimensions: (L) 24.9 x 36.9 (C) 24.8 x 36.9 (R) 24.8 x 36.9 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.


A snow scene of three onnagata dressed as geisha by a riverside. The importance of design and imagery throughout Japanese culture arguably places it beyond the realm of beautification into something rather spiritual. Drawing on mythological allusions, together the designs on these kimono suggest three of the four Guardian Beasts believed to protect the old capital of Kyoto from the four cardinal directions. One of the geisha has a minogame on their robe: this legendary turtle was said to be so ancient that seaweed and moss has settled on its shell. A dragon and tiger are worn by the other two onnagata, which along with the pine tree adorning the central figure and minogame, express an auspicious arrangement of longevity and immortality. The appearance of a dragon and tiger together was often used as a motif to symbolise great rivalry, each being respectfully the king of air and land. The assembly of such striking and loaded imagery on these kimonos possibly reveals something of the characters these onnagata wish to represent or to the very art form of their professional itself.

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)
SubjectMale & Female, Kabuki Theatre
Size(L) 24.9 x 36.9 (C) 24.8 x 36.9 (R) 24.8 x 36.9 cm
Condition ReportSome pinholes on the top margin. Faint horizontal centerfold on left panel. Slight tear on the right corner of the centre panel. Glue residue from the previous mounting.