Kunisada, 36 Views of the Eastern Capital - Ryogoku Bridge

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Thirty-six Views of the Eastern Capital:  Ryogoku Bridge, 1863. Oban.

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This is a great half-length actor portrait series that comes up for sale quite frequently. The prints are a collaboration between three artists, Kunisada (16 prints) together with Kunichika, his pupil, (21 prints) with backgrounds designed by another pupil Kunihisa, in the years 1863/65. The title, Thirty-six views of the Eastern Capital (Toto sanjurokkei no uchi), sometimes rendered Thirty-six Famous Views, recalls the censorship reforms that demanded:

To make woodblock prints of Kabuki actors, courtesans and geisha is detrimental to public morals. Henceforth the publication of new works [of this kind] as well as the sale of previously procured stocks is strictly forbidden.

The response of the artists and publishers was to disguise the identity of actors and prostitutes under layers of meaning and allusion or as in this case, travel pictures with innocuous titles… the practice of trick pictures was referred to as mitate. By 1863, the laws had been relaxed but the practice had become part of the genre of woodblock print making and continued. Hence, in this series, famous actors - in this print, Nakamura Shikan IV - take roles they may not have played, here the part of Kanto Kroku in front of dramatic backgrounds of famous views. Under censorship, only the view would have been named and not the actor.

The theatrical role here is that of Kanto Koroku,  an otokadate, the black sheep of the floating world: good looking tough guys who stole from the rich and maybe gave to the poor! We see the actor, in role standing in Edo, on the banks of the Sumida River, the Ryogoku Bridge behind him. The great bridge is crowded with people, many of whom carry with them bright orange lanterns.

Colour, impression and condition are all very good,  a fine actor print. From a rare and collectible series.

Publisher: Omiya Kyujiro.

36cm x 25cm.