Welcome to the first show of 2021 at the Toshidama Gallery. This month we have returned to our popular 4 x 4 format to showcase four prints by four of the giants of 19th century Japanese woodblock printing. Toyokuni I, the father of the Utagawa school who began his career in the 18th century and moved the discipline of print making away from the coterie and into the vibrant world of kabuki theatre; Kunisada, his pupil, who took the baton of kabuki theatre portraits and ran with it, while also creating a new vocabulary for portraying warriors in his early and influential musha-e; Yoshitoshi, pupil of Kunisada's colleague in the Utagawa School, Kuniyoshi, who started with actor prints but made his name with his Western-inspired warriors; and Kunichika, Kunisada's pupil, who reinvigorated both kabuki theatre and the print world that depicted it during the second half of the century.
Spanning the entire century, the earliest Toyokuni I print we are showing is the exquisite portrait of Bando Mitsugoro, Iwai Hanshiro and Ichikawa Yoazo from 1804. It's extraordinary to think that this print has survived all the depredations of the past 200+ years - fire, flood, pandemic... - and still looks so fresh, so vibrant; the faces and gestures of the actors so deft and familiar. By 1893, the huge change is in the quality of production: Kunichika's deluxe print of the elephant wrangler from the series One Hundred Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro IX is printed on thick paper with all the deluxe techniques available, making it a lustrous, desirable object...but one which is entirely relatable to the print which opens the show...the love of kabuki shining throughout.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, we have a superb, early musha-e (warrior print) triptych by Kunisada, of The Great Battle of the Minamoto and the Taira at the Palace of Suma; and two very early actor prints by Yoshitoshi, from before he found his metier as the chronicler of the dramatic and often painful changes wrought by the Meiji Restoration.
I hope you enjoy browsing the exhibition. Do sign up to the newsletter for a 10% discount on all prints in this show.
Wishing all our customers the best of health in these difficult times, and a very happy new year
Rachel Faulkner, gallery director