Kunichika Toyohara, Kabuki Actor Ichimura Uzaemon as Fireman, Tattoo Design

SKU
T11
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Artist: Toyohara Kunichika (1835 - 1900)
Title: Kabuki actor, Ichimura Uzaemon
Series: Famous Role of Fashionable Edo
Publisher: Manzen
Date: 1869
Size: 24 x 34.9 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print. 

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 Ichimura Uzaemon, 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 Kabuki Theatre, Tattoo
Dimensions 24 x 34.9 cm
Condition Report Light soiling and creases. Minor holes that have been restored. Some wear on the edges.

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 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.