Kunichika Toyohara, Onoe Kikugoro, Tattoo Design

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Artist: Kunichika Toyohara (1835-1900)
Title: Kunichika Manga no.6; Actor Onoe Kikugoro Plays as Oniazami Seikichi
Series: Flowers of Tokyo - Kunichika's Caricatures
Publisher: Yorozuya Magobei
Date: 1872
Size: 36.4 x 24.2 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

The tattoos in prints in which thistles appear are without exception related to the story of Keisuke (Seikichi). He was a notorious bandit who was caught, found guilty of murder and beheaded in 1805 at the age of thirty. As a young boy he was trained to become a Buddhist priest, but after a few years of education he failed in his duty and was forced to become a vagabond. He soon excelled in displaying bravura and also became known for his hot-tempered character, for which he was nicknamed Oniazami and also Hinotama. The first is the designation of the plumed and common thistle. It literally means 'Devil Thistle', while the translation of the second nickname is 'Fireball'.

In this print, vagabond Seikichi, here impersonated by the actor Onoe Kikugoro V, is using a bamboo pole to escape from his pursuers. The thistles in his tattoo are referring to the vagabond's nickname and hot-tempered character.

More Information
Print Format Oban (Vertical)
Artist Name Kunichika Toyohara
Title Actor Onoe Kikugoro Plays as Oniazami Seikichi
Subject Samurai & Male, Kabuki Theatre, Tattoo
Dimensions 36.4 x 24.2 cm
Condition Report Slightly soiled, restored wormholes, backed thin areas.
Publisher Yorozuya Magobei

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.