Hirosada, Kataoka Gado II as Washino'o Saburo

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Kataoka Gado II as Washino'o Saburo, 1847. Chuban.

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There are very many of these ‘improving’ chuban portraits. En-masse they form a compendium of effortless portraiture and revealing physiognomy. This beautiful print is of  Kataoko Gado II as Washino-o Saburo.. The print is from a long series of these portraits ostensibly of brave heroes of the so-called Japanese period of the warring states from 1467 to 1567 although the wars and confusion of the age were not finally ended until the creation of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603.

Epics from the period such as Tale of the Heike ("Heike Monogatari"), list in great detail the names and the attributes of the heroes and villains of the warring clans. The epics were plundered by story tellers and playwrights for characters with which they could populate the seemingly endless dramas set in the period.  During the moralising tenpo reforms of the 1840’s, portraits of actors were banned and theatre subjects prohibited. Artists got around these reforms by depicting warriors from the great epics in long series under general titles such as Chuko Buyunden ("Tales of courage, loyalty, and filial piety").

Philadelphia Museum of Art has a bound volume  from one such series, Kokon Yūjinki ("Chronicle of Heroes of the Past and Present") in which this print appears. There appear to be 55 prints in the album, all of which present this type of design. The portrait of the actor was so transparent that no one, including government censors, was fooled into thinking that these images were anything but actor prints. Note, too, that the actor's name is not given on the print, a small price to pay to skirt penalties, as ukiyo-e patrons knew the physiognomies of the actors and were intimately familiar with current stage productions. The role is given sometimes but that too was omitted on occasion. Even the sumptuous colours and the complex design of a print like this one did not escape censure.  The series title in this print is announced in the multi-colour cartouche in the top left and the character in the cursive script.

The character Washino'o Saburo, played here by Kataoka Gado II, is probably from the play Sumino miyako Genpei tsutsuji. Set at the time of the warring states, Saburo appears in the Tales of the Heike as one of the great hero Yoshitsune’s young companions and they share a coming of age  ceremony.

A fine example of a Hirosada, colour, impression and condition are all very good. Beautiful shaded bokashi to the background and light Japanese album backing, a fine print.

18 x 25 cm.