Kunichika, 100 Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro IX - Gagoze Akaemon

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) One Hundred Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro IX:  Gagoze Akaemon from Nanatsu Men, mid-1898. Deluxe Oban.

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This quite extraordinary print is from Kunichika’s last great series of actor portraits, One Hundred Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro, completed after his death in 1900. 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 pages 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.

This print with its exhilarating colour scheme is taken from the character of Gagoze Akaemon from the dance piece Nanatsu Men, ('The Seven Masks'). Nanatsu Men is about the No mask-maker Gagoze Akaemon, in reality Awazu Rokuro Saemon, who removes various masks from their boxes, dancing their parts. He discovers a stolen scroll hidden in the mouth of the last mask (the seventh one), the mask of an evil character. He gives back the precious scroll to its legitimate owner, Yoshida no Shôshô. The dance formed part of the repetoire of the Danjuro clan, called the Kabuki Jūhachiban, or 'Eighteen Best Kabuki Plays'. These works were chosen and ‘claimed’ as The Eighteen by actor Danjūrō VII). They were all considered to be outstanding representations of the aragoto - rough - style of kabuki acting.

The print is amazing; the colours jump and dance off the page. the bokashi shading is so exceptionally skilful, avoiding the possibility of smearing the orange and creating a brown tide-mark. The impression and colour are fine, the condition is as fresh as the day it was printed with no issues… very fine.

Published by Fukuda Kamajiro and Gusokuya Kahei.

24 x 35.5 cm.