Kunisada, Actor Pairs - Sawamura Sojuro III as Yuranosuke, and Soga no Juro

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865), Actor Pairs: Sawamura Sojuro III as Yuranosuke and Soga no Juro, 1860. Oban yoko-e.

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This is a very rare and obscure series  of actor prints by Kunisada. In form the print takes its cue from a very spectacular illustrated book, Thirty-Six Flowers of the Acting Profession illustrated by Kunisada in 1835. A copy of that object is in the British Museum collection

In the British Museum volume, actors are reproduced alongside haiku in cursive script. The form and the intent of the object certainly mirrors this series from 1860. In the print series, some of the actors are represented posthumously in roles that Kunisada would not have witnessed in life. On the left, Sojuro plays Soga no Juro and on the right he is in the role of Yuranosuke. Much of what Kunisada can add here is speculation. He has based the likeness, nigao, on existing prints by for example, Sharaku; but in truth Kunisada developed his own shorthand for the actor in a limited set of roles.  Sojuro himself was a child prodigy; born in 1753, he died in 1801, over half a century before this print was made. He was a popular leading actor and in 1790 went on to become the manager of the Ichimura theatre in Edo.

The format of the print, although derived in part from an open book, is developed into that of a padded double frame. There will be an association with the actor’s family crests in the printed decoration of the implied fabric. Note how Kunisada has used the bokashi shading to indicate the soft shadows cast by the framed surround… another example of the interplay between style and realism that pervades prints of this period.

This is a fine, complex print with many layers; a sort of history of kabuki emerges in this series, an homage to the past greatness of the legendary actors. These portraits are very directly influenced from Osaka printmakers, especially the portrait on the right.

The print is richly embossed and the colour is vibrant… that and the impression are fine, condition is very good. Centrefold.

37 x 25 cm.