Kunichika, Okubi-e of Otani Tomoemon as Michikaze

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Otani Tomoemon as Michizane from an untitled series of actor portraits, 1869. Oban.

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Coming so shortly after the great 1860-1863 series by Kunisada, this series of 1869 remains one of the two or three truly outstanding series by Kunichika, Kunisada’s pupil. Like the Kunisada series, this early set uses the little used okubi-e ("large head") format which was popular in the eighteenth century until it was prohibited on moral grounds in the early nineteenth century. Kunisada revived the form - almost certainly under the influence of the Osaka artists who had used it almost exclusively from the 1840’s. The form is difficult to pull off; the drawing has to be bold and certain and the use of line in the composition and description of features must be perfect or the piece becomes weak and ineffective.

This is a stunning piece. Of the prints from this series that we have sold, this is one of the best preserved and the cleanest impression. Almost as fresh as the day it was printed, its colour, impression and condition really are superb, and there is deep, clean embossing to the collar. The figure of Michizane looms, filling the frame, superbly refined... the drawing barely exists. The thinness of the lines describing the ears and faintest printed marks for the delineation of the chin emphasise the thickness and flabbiness of the flesh.

Otani Tomoeomon was a less well known kabuki actor… although apparently a tremendous drunk. In this print he plays a talented calligrapher, Ono Michikaze (896 - 966) in the play, The Green Willow Inkstone of Ono Michikaze; apparently the story of the calligrapher’s inspiration at seeing a frog jump from a willow tree.

An outstanding print, rare and in superb condition. This print is illustrated full page p. 96 in Time Present and Time Past, Amy Reigle Newland, Hotei 1999.  A version with the yellow faded is in the MFA Boston.

Publisher: Gusokuya Kahei.

36 x 24 cm.