Kunisada, Actor Pairs - Ichikawa Ichizo III as Shirai Gonpachi

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865), Actor Pairs: Ichikawa Ichizo III as Shirai Gonpachai, 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. In this sheet, the actor Ichikawa Ichizo III plays Shirai Gonpachi. The character is a tragic hero of kabuki drama… . Shirai Gonpachi, a skillful swordsman of Inabi, killed one of his clansmen in a quarrel and fled to Edo. On his way he met a girl, Komurasaki, who told him that she was held captive by robbers, and that he, too, would be caught by them unless he hurried away. Gompachi stopped, attacked the robbers, and rescued the girl whom he took to her parents in Mikawa. He then returned to the Edo road, met with another party of robbers, who would have despatched him but for the timely arrival of a man named Chobei, who rescued him and entertained him in Edo. In the Yoshiwara, Gompachi heard of a new girl, just arrived from the country, and who was called Young Purple. She was no other than Komurasaki, whose people had met with misfortune, and who had sold herself to pay their debts. Gompachi, deeply in love, decided to redeem her, and as he had no money himself, he began a life of crime, killing and robbing people to get enough money wherewith to buy her back. He was caught and beheaded, Chobei buried his body at Ekko-in, and Komurasaki came a few days later to kill herself on his grave. Their common tomb is called the grave of the Shiyoku, and the souls of the two are embodied in the legendary bird Hiyokudori.

The actor on the right remains unidentified.

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. This portrait series shows a great indebtedness to the chuban portraits of Osaka.

The print is richly decorated with burnished shomenzuri and the colour is vibrant… that and the impression are fine, condition is very good. Centrefold.

37 x 25 cm.