Welcome to the first show of the new season at Toshidama Gallery. We are starting the autumn with an exciting show exploring the unusual and occasionally mystifying world of actor portraits in series. Those long series titles which one feels certain have lost much of their nuance in translation have a fascinating heritage of rebellion in teasing their knowing audience and eluding the censors during the Tenpo reforms. Here we have gathered a fantastic selection of portraits, all from different series, all with their many and complex layers of meaning to be unravelled.
Stand out pieces include Kunisada's superb double portrait of Iwai Hanshiro V and VII, from a series depicting two generations of actor from the same lineage (possibly but not necessarily related!) entitled Both Sides of the Leaf, Past and Present, in which duality of the leaf refers not only to the actors but to their comparable roles in different kabuki plays with a double-suicide story. Similarly tragic is Kunichika's portrait of Onoe Kikugoro (the great Baiko) in the role of Hanakawado no Sukeroku, from a series blandly titled Thirty-six Views of the Eastern Capital; and the beautifully melancholy onnagata portrait of Iwai Kumesaburo III as Hamaji in the Eight Dog Heroes, by Kunisada II.
Elsewhere, the intriguingly named Ningen Banji Kane no Yo no Naka turns out to be that rare thing, a Meiji adaptation of a play by Edward Bulwer-Lytton called Money, which is evidenced in the unusual western hairstyles sported by the men. And the superb triptych of Jiraiya by Kunichika is as lush and rich in its colours and density as the very best of Meiji woodblock printing could produce.
With a huge array of new prints to browse, I hope you find something to interest you. Don't forget to subscribe to the mailing list for your 10% discount code, and for further reading on Japanese woodblock prints and culture, do visit the Toshidama Gallery Eblogger and Wordpress sites.