Kunichika Toyohara, Fireman, Tattoo Design

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Original Japanese woodblock print.

Artist: Kunichika Toyohara (1835-1900)
Title: Kawarazaki Gonjuro
Series: Famous Roles of Fashionable Edo
Publisher: Yorozuya Zentaro
Date: 1869
Condition: Minute stains. Backing.
Size: 36 cm x 24.6 cm


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.


The actor Kawarazaki Gonjuro, portraying a fireman, is shown in this print. His tattooed arms are on display and he is carrying a matoi, which was a sort of flag identifying particular groups of firefighters. Matoi would be put up by the first brigade to respond to a fire outbreak. It signalled other brigades and called them for assistance and was also a way of staking a claim on having saved a property to be able to collect a reward for that later.

More Information
Print Format Oban (Vertical)
Artist Name Kunichika Toyohara
Subject Samurai & Male, Kabuki Theatre, Tattoo
Dimensions 36 cm x 24.6 cm
Condition Report Minute stains. Backing.
Series Eigh Views of the Pleasure Quarters
Publisher Yorozuya Jubei