Kunichika, 100 Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro IX - The Fisherman Fukashichi

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) One Hundred Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro IX: The Fisherman Fukashichi, 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 dramatic print, as fresh and as clean as when it was first made, shows the fisherman Fukashichi. The play from which it is taken, Imoseyama Onna Teikin, tells two stories… an habitual trope amongst kabuki playwrights, one involving commoners and one involving nobility. The unlikely plot sees the commoner - the maid Omiwa - sacrificing herself in jealousy over her lover so that a magic poison made from her blood and that of a black deer might be used to enchant a flute, to be played to an evil nobleman in order to break a binding spell and allow him to be assassinated by the hero… none other than Fukashichi. Fukashichi is in fact Kanawa no Goro, a retainer of Kamatari no Fujiwara who is the chief rival of the evil sorcerer (the said nobleman) Iruka. The interlacing of the plots was a subtle means by which democratisation was being shown to a restive Edo population, hence many of the restrictive laws placed on actors and artists at this time.

This startling print is richly covered in thick, double printed ink, the background encrusted with mica, blind embossing in the cartouche, the checks and the minor details and metallic inks on the sword. Colour and impression are pristine, condition very fine.

Published by Fukuda Kamajiro and Gusokuya Kahei.

24 x 35.5 cm.