Kunichika, 100 Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro IX - Kamakura Gongoro Kagemasa - Shibaraku

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) One Hundred Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro IX: Kamakura Gongoro Kagemasa in Shibaraku, mid-1894. Deluxe Oban.

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We are showing four examples from nearly the last series of Kunichika’s life, The One Hundred Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro. This is such an important and poignant series. One hundred deluxe oban prints, produced by the aged artist to the highest standards of printing that Edo had attempted. This was a truly ambitious project that outlived the artist. Kunichika was commissioned to create the series by the publishers Fukuda Kamajiro and Gusokuya Kahei in 1893 and it was published over a period of years. The last of the designs  were published in 1903, three years after Kunichika died. Comparisons can be made with the other late series by Kunchika from the same period, such as The One Hundred Roles of Baiko.

Amy Reigle Newland, in Time Present and Time Past: Images of a Forgotten Master, discusses the importance of this series on page 25/26):

During the 1880s and 1890s, Kunichika produced some outstanding pieces of single-sheet portraits, such as the One hundred roles of Ichikawa Danjuro IX (Ichikawa Danjuro engei hyakuban) and One hundred roles of Baiko (Baiko kyakushi no uchi).  Like Kunisada's set of 'large-head' portraits, Kunichika's two series may be regarded as 'monuments to his (Kunichika's) career'. Whilst Kunisada attempted an overview of all the greatest actors of the age, Kunichika's two series focus on the kabuki doyens, Ichikawa Danjuro IX and Onoe Kikugoro V.

Ichikawa Danjuro is the name of the line of famous kabuki actors from the Ichikawa family that goes back to 1693 and still exists today. The actor in the series by Kunichika was the ninth in the lineage. He was born in 1838 and held the title from 1874 until his death in 1903.  Danjuro IX was the most popular kabuki actor of the second half of the nineteenth century. He and his close partner Kunichika kept the kabuki theatre in the public eye during the westernisation of Japan, but inevitably both the theatre and the art of woodblock printing effectively died in their traditional form alongside these two great artists.

This print is one of the finest of the series. Danjuro plays super hero Kamakura Gongoro Kagemasa, in a standard hour long performance that has been refined over the years since an actual occurrence involving Danjuro I. On this particular occasion, when his fellow actors refused to give him his cue to make his entrance, Danjuro dramatically shouted SHIBARAKU!, and stepped onto the stage, making his entrance. The plot varies but generally involves the lead actor dressed in dramatic red make up and the traditional robes of the clan, stopping the massacre of innocent people by his great strength and presence.

This deluxe print is on thick, hoshu paper, deeply embossed and with burnished black ink and dabs of metallic ink and mica. The colour and impression are fine, the condition is virtually as new. A similar copy of this print is in the British Museum collection, the print is illustrated as a full page on p.128 of Newland’s Time Present and Time Past: Images of a Forgotten Master.

Published by Fukuda Kamajiro and Gusokuya Kahei.

24 x 35.5 cm.