Kunichika Toyohara, Water Margin of Beautiful and Brave Women


Original Japanese woodblock print.

Artist: Kunichika Toyohara (1835-1900)
Title: Hana Yujo Suikoden. Actors Bando Hikosaburo V, Onoe Kikugoro V, Sawamura Tossho II (R), Otani Tomoemon V, Sawamura Tanosuke III, Iwai Shijaku II, Nakamura Shikan IV (C), Kawarazaki Gonnosuke VII, Bando Mitsugoro VI and Ichikawa Kuzo III (L)
Series: A Water Margin of Beautiful and Brave Women
Publisher: Gusoku-ya
Date: 1869
Size: (L)36.4 x 24.2 (C)35.9 x 24.4 (R) 35.8x24.4 cm
Condition: A few washed out areas. Some creases and stains. A few holes that have been restored.

Female warriors and gangsters were very rare in real life but do sometimes occur as characters in kabuki plays. Similarly, elaborate tattoos were much less common for women than for men but apparently not unknown. In this triptych, Kunichika imagines a group of tattooed women arming for battle. Though the figures represent actual women, their bodies are somewhat androgynous, and their faces are those of famous male actors. Only one of the actors shown, Sawamura Tanosuke III, holding a naginata (traditional weapon for women) was a specialist in female roles. Although a good actor was capable of taking any role, the other actors shown here were best known for playing male heroes, which was probably the humorous intention.

More Information
Print Format Triptych
Artist Name Kunichika Toyohara
Title Hana Yujo Suikoden
Subject Beauty & Female, Samurai & Male, Kabuki Theatre
Dimensions (L)36.4 x 24.2 (C)35.9 x 24.4 (R) 35.8x24.4 cm
Publisher Gusokuya Kahei

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.