Kunichika, 100 Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro - Sekibei

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) One Hundred Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro: Sekibei, Mid - 1898.

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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.

The print, and its dazzling display of colour and effect, shows the great Danjuro as Otomo no Kuronushi who is disguised as a local barrier station guard named Sekibei. Sekibei (Kuronushi) is intent on bringing down the government and installing himself instead; he has disguised himself to that end but is discovered by a pair of  lovers Munesada and Ono no Komachi. Sekibei has in fact murdered Munesada’s brother. Sekibei is unmasked when he takes an axe to a large cherry tree and the spirit of that tree turns out to be the supernatural lover of Munesada’s late brother. Sekibei is frequently pictured next to the cherry tree holding a vast, man-sized axe. The characters appear in different plays, but chiefly, Tsumoru Koi Yuki no Seki no To ('The Snow Bound Barrier of Love').  This scene on video shows the unmasking of the villain to great effect. 

A wonderful and exuberant print, rich in colour and special printing effects. Colour and impression are all fine as is the condition that is more or less as new.

Published by Fukuda Kamajiro and Gusokuya Kahei.

24 x 35.5 cm.