Welcome to the second foray into kabuki this season. The April selection has mainly later kabuki prints but especially exciting is a collaboration between a contemporary gallery in London, springseason gallery, and the Toshidama Gallery. As Covid restrictions begin to ease in the capital, there is the sense that real world exhibitions can go ahead following the legal requirements. There is a long written piece on the show and the various collaborations on the gallery blog and the central piece of the exhibition, the framed sugoroku by Kunichika is for sale through this site.
This selection puts the Kunichika five-sheet print into context. Kunichika, a Meiji artist in temperament sits well in the company of Kunisada, his teacher and mentor and also with Kunisada II whose outstanding Hakkenden series are represented here by three prints, two of which are some of the best of the series. The sugoroku is from 1864, the year before Kunisada’s death and marks the year that Kunichika became an independent artist in his own right.
His distinctive style, not yet quite evident in 1864 nevertheless is very visible in the tremendous diptych Scene from Kokusen'ya Gassen, that is nearly the swan-song of kabuki and Yakusha-e printing. That print has already left behind the traditional style of say, The Helmet Selection at Hachiman Shrine from Chushingura from only a few years earlier. In turn Kunichika’s influence is unmissable in the Kunimasa IV (Baido) print of Ichikawa Sadanji as Murai Choan in Kanzen Chôaku Nozoki Garakuri from roughly the same year. The influence then of Kunisada can be traced in an unbroken line from the high point of kabuki prints; say the genius of his great achievement, the Fifty-three Stations of the Tôkaidô Road of 1852 to the close of the century and the collapse of the art form.
A twin thread can be read of course in the influence of the Osaka School. Often in the past derided as a distraction from the greatness of Edo, it is at last being recognised as the flowering of a genius in woodblock printing unsurpassed in the world. An item such as Sadanobu’s, Jitsukawa Ensaburō from the play Midô Mae no Adauchi, defies belief… especially to anyone who may once have made a serious attempt at lino-cuts!
I hope very much that you enjoy this selection of prints. Please do enquire about shipping of the framed Kunichika. If you have not already done so, please do join our monthly mailing list and enjoy prior notification of exhibitions, discounts and sales offers.