Kunichika, Ichimura Kakitsu IV as Iwafuji

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900). Ichimura Kakitsu IV as Iwafuji, 1867. Oban.

Kunichika is one of the very underrated artists of the late nineteenth century and ironically, one of the most important. His prints span the mature style of the late Utagawa School in the 1850’s to the demise of woodblock printing at the end of the century. He consistently 'reinvented' the style and genre of the theatre print, his work culminating in the great and visionary panoramic triptychs of the 1890’s. Toshidama Gallery has devoted several exhibitions to his work and written extensively on his brilliance and influence. In 2013, Toshidama Gallery set up kunichika.net as the only online resource dedicated to the artist and his work.

From the series Yoshiwara Beauties Compared with Thirty Six Poems, this print depicts the actor Ichimura Kakitsu IV as Iwafuji, a senior lady in waiting. Iwafuji plots the downfall of Onoe, her junior, by substituting a sandal for a statue in Onoe’s care. When the sandal is discovered, Iwafuji publicly beats and humiliates Onoe who leaves, later to commit suicide. In this print, Iwafuji is raising the sandal to beat Onoe. In the final scene, Onoe, having killed herself, is avenged by her friend Ohatsu who beats Iwafuji to death with the offending sandal. The two boxes at the top of the print contain verses by different poets, the one on the right is by the artist Hiroshige II and the one on the left by Seyo. The kanji on Iwafuji’s kimono read Kakitsu, indicating the actor’s name.

This very fine and delicate print, embossed to the collar and with bokashi shading to the cartouches, is in good condition, strong colours, trimmed to the image on three sides with no condition problem.

This print is illustrated on page 54 of Amy Reigle Newland’s Time Past and Time Present, Images of a Forgotten Master,  Hotei Publishing 1999.

Published by Gusokaya Kahei.

35.0 x 25 cm.