Kunichika Toyohara, Kabuki Actor Ichikawa Udanji Plays as Sugawara no Michizane

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Artist: Kunichika Toyohara (1835-1900)
Title: Actor Ichikawa Udanji Plays as Sugawara no Michizane
Publisher: Ebiya Rinnosuke
Date: c.1880s
Size: (L) 23.5 x 35.5, (C) 24.5 x 35.5, (R) 23.5 x 35.5 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

kunichika toyohara, Actor Ichikawa Udanji Plays as Sugawara no Michizane, kabuki theatre
kunichika toyohara, Actor Ichikawa Udanji Plays as Sugawara no Michizane, kabuki theatre kunichika toyohara, Actor Ichikawa Udanji Plays as Sugawara no Michizane, kabuki theatre

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. Since the beginning of the Meiji period, he made a large number of triptychs depicting half length portraits of a single actor on a big format and in luxurious style, applying original composition in this new design of dynamic prints. He got acclaimed for this work that improved the quality of half-length portraits and because those prints became known by their innovative composition, he succeeded in obtaining the full supremacy in the field of yakusha-e (actor prints).


His portrayal of human faces have some traces of his previous studies in hagoita style painting and can appear to be cold and hard, depending on the perspective, but it became a feature characteristic of his style.

Kunichika Toyohara


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 Japanese woodblock 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
SubjectKabuki Theatre, Ghosts & Religion
Dimensions(L) 23.5 x 35.5, (C) 24.5 x 35.5, (R) 23.5 x 35.5 cm
Condition ReportMinor wormholes, vertical creases, brown stains due to oxidisation.
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