Toyokuni III Utagawa, Danshichi Kurobei, Thirty-six Outstanding Poems
Artist: Toyokuni III Utagawa (1786-1865)
Title: Danshichi Kurobei
Series: The Thirty-six Outstanding Poems
Publisher: Sagamiya Tokichi
Size: 36.6 x 25.5 cm
Original Japanese woodblock print.
Kunisada’s pictures reflect the culture of Japan in the years leading up to the country’s opening to the West. His first book illustrations were published in 1807, his first actor portrait the following year, alongside theatrical scenes and courtesans, yakusha-e was his preferred genre amidst all his popular and extensive output. As he painted very many of these, continuing the stout realism of his teacher, he acquired the sobriquet 'Yakusha-e no Kunisada' – Kunisada, the actor painter. From 1830 he continued the development of the Utagawa school, and from 1844 onwards signed his works Toyokuni III.
The scene depicted here is one of kabuki's most famous episodes, the 'Nagamachi no ura no ba' (Back Street Scene in Nagamachi) from the play 'Natsu matsuri naniwa kagami' (The Summer Festival, Mirror of Osaka). Overcome with rage, Danshichi, his knotted hair falling to his shoulders, strips down to a red loincloth, revealing his tattooed body. Danshichi takes the old man's life with a thrust of his sword, then washes splattered blood and Giheiji’s muddy handprints from his body, using water from a nearby well. He escapes by mingling with the large crowd of festival celebrants.
In stage performances during Japan's hot summers, the use of real mud and real water would have given the audience a pleasant feeling of coolness.
|Print Format||Oban (Vertical)|
|Artist Name||Toyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I)|
|Subject||Kabuki Theatre, Tattoo Design|
|Dimensions||36.6 x 25.5 cm|
|Condition Report||Minor wormholes, light soiling and creases, small pencil writing in the bottom right.|
Toyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I)
Kunisada I Utagawa was a prolific woodblock print artist mostly known for his pictures of beautiful women (bijinga) and kabuki actors prints (yakusha-e). Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), he became a pupil of Toyokuni I Utagawa (1769-1825) at the age of 15 and would later adopt his name in the traditional Japanese manner, becoming Toyokuni III and continuing the development of the Utagawa art school.
Kunisada’s pictures reflect the culture of Japan in the years leading up to the country’s opening to the West. His first book illustrations were published in 1807 and his first actor portrait the following year. Alongside theatrical scenes and courtesans, yakusha-e was his preferred genre amidst all his popular and extensive output. As he painted a large number of these, continuing the stout realism of his teacher, he acquired the nickname ‘Yakusha-e no Kunisada’ – Kunisada, the actor painter. In his numerous bijinga he clung to the ideal of beauty prevalent at the time. Most of the women portrayed were courtesans from Yoshiwara, the regulated red-light district of the city.
In 1820s Kunisada joined author Ryutei Tanehiko (1783-1842) to work on illustrating a series of books based on the classical novel ‘The Tale of Genji’, the reinterpreted story having been relocated from the old capital of Kyoto to the new audience in Edo. The work started a new ukiyo-e genre, genji-e, and proved an overnight success, becoming the first Japanese publication to sell over 10,000 copies, a record which stood for many years.
Kunisada gave his audience an escape from the restrictions of their ordinary lives and his designs, with their optimism and energy, still have the capacity today to attract and entertain. Notable students of Kunisada included Kunichika Toyohara, Sadahide Utagawa and Kunisada II Utagawa.