Toyokuni III Utagawa, Kabuki Actor, Danshichi Kurobei, Tattoo Design


Artist: Toyokuni III Utagawa (1786-1865)
Title: Actor Nakamura Fukusuke as Danshichi Kurobei
Series: Mirrors for Collage Pictures in the Modern Styles
Publisher: Fujiokaya Keijiro
Date: 1859
Size: 36.5x25.2 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

toyokuni III utagawa, tattoo design, irezumi, kabuki
toyokuni III utagawa, tattoo design, irezumi, kabuki toyokuni III utagawa, tattoo design, irezumi, kabuki

'Mirrors for Collage Pictures in the Modern Styles' is a series by Toyokuni III featuring actors viewed as a reflection from a black and gold framed bronze mirror accompanied by a poem in their own hand. The background has a printed pattern imitating decorative, gold-flecked paper.

The scene depicted here is one of kabuki's most famous episodes, the Nagamachi noura no ba (Back Street Scene in Nagamachi). This print shows a closeup of Danshichi's grimacing face and details of his dragon tattoo as he pours a bucket of water from a well to wash away the blood and dirt after murdering his father-in-law in a fight. 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.

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.

More Information
Print FormatOban (Vertical)
Artist NameToyokuni III Utagawa (Kunisada I)
SubjectSamurai & Male, Kabuki Theatre, Tattoo Design
Dimensions36.5x25.2 cm
Condition ReportSlightly trimmed, light soiling, restored binding holes, minor wormhole.
PublisherFujioka-ya Keijiro
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