Kunichika, Sawamura Tanosuke III as Miyagino and Bando Mitsugoro VI as Shinobu

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Sawamura Tanosuke III as Miyagino and Bando Mitsugoro VI as Shinobu, from an Untitled Series of Actor Portraits, 1870. Oban Diptych.

Click here for a full-size image.

This is one of the really great, outstanding Kunichika prints of his illustrious career. His best output was arguably that of his large full head portraits known as Okubi-e. This genre was started in earnest in the nineteenth century by Kunisada, who in turn used the smaller chuban genre of Sadamasu and Hirosada, both Osaka artists, as inspiration not just for composition but also for colour, line, print quality and subject. It can be argued that these nineteenth century ‘decadent’ prints hark back to the classical okubi-e of Utamaro and of Sharaku, but personally I doubt that; there is a superficial link but I think the debt is with Osaka...

The play Go Taiheiki Shiraishi Banashi is set in a brothel… the two characters are prostitutes. Miyagino (on the left) is the most popular girl in the house but one day a new girl, Shinobu arrives from the country. The other girls mock her regional accent and manners but Miyagino is kind to her and when they are alone it turns out that they are long separated sisters. Shinobu tells Miyagino that their father has been killed and with their mother also dead, they vow to avenge his death. They are overheard by the owner of the brothel and they try to kill him; instead he persuades them to hone their skills and become true assassins. As the play ends, he gives each of them their release papers so that when they do leave it will be legitimately, but for now they will stay there on trust.

This is a very fine diptych related to other series of full size actor heads but not strictly speaking part of any set.  Colour, and impression and condition are all really outstanding, there is some fading to the brighter yellows. The print has been professionally archive mounted onto acid free paper. A copy of the diptych, which is very rare indeed as a complete set is in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Publisher Ohashiya Yashichi.

48 x 36 cm.