Kunisada, Actors Making Up - Ichimura Uzaemon XIII

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Actors Making Up: Ichimura Uzaemon XIII, 1861. Oban.

Click here for a full-size image.

This is a rare and wonderful portrait of the superstar kabuki actor, Onoe Kikugoro V (1844 - 1903) from very early in his career. The actor was only seventeen years old when this portrait was made. The actor who would later be known as Kikugoro V first appeared on stage at the age of four, in 1848, as Ichimura Kuroemon. Three years later, he succeeded his father to the name Uzaemon, as his father became manager of the Ichimura-za theatre.

Kikugoro was very devoted to his craft, and even visited the battlefield of the 1868 Battle of Ueno during the battle, to see for himself what war was like, how soldiers behaved, so as better to be able to portray them on stage. He performed countless times at the Ichimura-za over the course of his career. Kikugoro made his final stage appearance at the latter, in November 1902 and died a few months later, on February 18, 1903, at the age of 58. He is well known in ukiyo-e because of his close friendship with the great artist Kunichika, who portrayed him in the fantastic series The One Hundred Roles of Baiko, which also appears in this selection.

A rare image of the young Baiko from a highly regarded and collectible series by Kunisada. We are given a mysterious glimpse of the secret otherness of the backstage. A glimpse into the shrouded world of the kabuki stage would have been deeply thrilling to the kabuki enthusiasts of Edo in the nineteenth century. Kabuki fans were fanatical and the great actors had devoted followers who would have been excited to see this knowing insight of an actor out of role. The actor is set behind the great stage curtain, We can observe the accoutrements of his trade, a roll of tissue, a fan box, a tea kettle. He looks to the right of the picture… at what or whom we do not know. His gesture and expression are urgent, questing and yet he is not dressed in stage clothes or make up… this has the same appeal to fans of cinema today as the ‘outtake’ or the ‘blooper’. Kunisada invented the genre. It was quickly copied, notably by the artist Kunichika in similar forms.

A fine print from a very desirable series. Colour and impression are fine, unbacked. Condition overall is very good, with minor surface wear. A copy of the print is in the British Museum, London.

24 x 36 cm.