Kunichika, 100 Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro IX - Zohiki

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) One Hundred Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro IX: Zohiki, Mid - 1893. Deluxe Oban.

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Here is a wonderful deluxe print from the acclaimed series, 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. This was a truly ambitious project that outlived the artist. The series was commissioned by the publishers Fukuda Kamajiro and Gusokuya Kahei in 1893 and 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 - One Hundred Roles of Baiko, for example - from the same period. 

Amy Reigle Newland, in Time Present and Time Past: Images of a Forgotten Master,  discusses the importance of this series, pp 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 wrestling an elephant. Danjuro the ninth was tremendously powerful on the kabuki scene and set about co-opting eighteen plays in which he or his family excelled, the so called: Juhachiban no Uchi.  The series is part of a masterful public relations exercise by the Danjuro clan to put themselves at the heart of the kabuki world. Danjuro VII commenced this coup-de-theatre in 1832 and by 1840 he had established a canon of eighteen plays that the line of actors excelled in, not because they were fine plays but because they showcased the particular ‘bravura’ style of acting (aragoto) in which the Danjuro clan performed, this being one.

In this play, Zohiki - ‘Pulling an Elephant’ - an elephant escapes from its transporters and runs loose. Two rival samurai compete to capture the creature. Presumably to accommodate such an unlikely effect on stage, the elephant is miraculously reduced in size at the climax of the performance an effect caused either by fear of the power of Danjuro or the strength of his rival, Takeru. Well, nevertheless the print is an exotic and exuberant tour-de-force by Kunichika; the reduced elephant writhes in the foreground as Danjuro in full kumadori make up grimaces off to the left.

The print is beautifully executed, with glossy inks, mica and blind embossing throughout. There is some minor mica migration on the cream background. Colour, impression and condition all fine. Japanese album backing.

Published by Fukuda Kamajiro and Gusokuya Kahei.

24 x 35.5 cm.