Kunisada, Actors with Poems - Sawamura Tanosuke III as Goze Otano

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Sawamura Tanosuke III as Goze Otano from an Untitled Set of Actors with Poems, 1862. Oban.

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This series is a set of half-length actor portraits with poem slips written on imitation wood slips down the right side of the page. In Japan, it was common practice to write prayers or poems on slips of paper or more permanently, on these decorative, vertical wooden strips before hanging them from trees and shrines. Ema, these wooden plaques, are more often square, house shaped than this long thin example. Kunisada presumably chose this less common shape to accommodate the vertical portrait format. Millions of these objects are for sale in modern Japanese tourist and souvenir shops inscribed with such hopeful prayers as:

Please my only wish is to have good skill in video game

Times change. Most of the prints have a still-life in the top of the picture acting as a mitate to the character, designed by Gengyo Miyagi. This print is unusual in not having this. All of these prints are mitate prints, meaning that the actors in the shown roles are imagined and not really performed in a special play.

They have a beautiful and static quality, the portraits are gentle and thoughtful and like all of Kunisada’s very late output, very beautifully drawn and executed. The print is beautifully made, cheesecloth has been impressed into the background to make an embossed surface and the poem slip on the right is printed to look like wood… not just the grain of the block itself.

The subject is a blind (goze) courtesan and performer, played in this case by the kabuki actor Sawamura Tanosuke III.

Colour, impression and condition are all very fine.

24.5 x 35.5 cm.