Kunichika, Okubi-e of Ichikawa Danjuro IX as Omiwa

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) A Mirror of Actors in Tales of Modern History: Okubi-e of Ichikawa Danjuro IX as Omiwa, 1883. Oban.

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This is a fine example of what led the Japanese scholar Kojima Usui  to acclaim Kunichika as ‘the premier figure since Sharaku in actor portraiture’. It is a great piece of work, a magnificent piece of woodblock printing and an fine example of portraiture. It comes from a short series of three actor portraits depicting principal characters from the play, An Example of Noble Womanhood. The print shows the greatest of the Meiji kabuki actors, Ichikawa Danjuro IX, as the female Omiwa.

This short set of three prints is considered one of the finest of Kunichika’s okubi-e (large head print) series. The full title of the set is Jidai sewa haiyu kagami (A Mirror of Actors in Tales of Modern History). He produced other series in this magnificent bold style, (borrowed from his teacher Kunisada’s late series of 1862 ) in 1869, 1873, and 1894. The other two prints in the series depict Nakamura Shikan IV as Motome (also in this selection) and Ichikawa Sadanji I as Fukashichi.

Omiwa is the tragic heroine of a kabuki story of poison, superstition and eventually murder. She is traditionally pictured carrying a spool of thread, pictured in the odd three dimensional drawing in the bottom right-hand corner. In this print Danjuro plays the young Omiwa from the play Imoseyama Onna Teikin, about the Taika coup d’etat of 645. Omiwa is the daughter of a saki shop owner who is in love with Tankei, (Motome), a hero and warrior who is protecting the elderly Emperor. Through intrigue, Tankei marries the princess Tachibana. Omiwa, tormented by jealousy is killed so that her blood may be used in a potion to assassinate the tyrant Iruka. Her reward is that she may be united with Tankei in the afterlife.She has attached the spool of cotton to Tankei in order to follow him and discover his real identity.

It is an outstanding print, great art, and a fine piece of work. The colour, condition and impression are all fine, barring a few surface marks.  Richly embossed and sprinkled with mica. It is full size and untrimmed. The print is (typically) backed with Japanese album paper.

Published by Yamamura Kojiro.

24 x 36 cm.