Hirosada, The Boatman Kikuhei

Gosotei Hirosada (ca.1810 - 1864) The Boatman Kikuhei, 1848. Chuban.

The Osaka prints of Gosotei Hirosada are among the finest and most individual of the whole ukiyo-e genre. Particularly outstanding are these half length chuban actor portraits from the 1840’s. Instantly recognisable, these exquisite, complex pictures are among some of the finest character portraits produced anywhere in the world. Self contained, endlessly inventive within a tight, self imposed pictorial constraint, each picture is capable of extraordinary surprise and revelation - be it tiny details of design or technique or astonishing bold leaps of facility. Hirosada effortlessly plays with illusion, depth and pattern whilst all the time maintaining the spirit of the subject and the realism of the portrait.

The many prohibitions on actor portraits and censorship of subject matter meant that many of the prints are disguised as exhortations to loyalty or friendship and carefully omit the name of the actor or the play in which they are acting. Hence one series of actor portraits is blandly titled, Loyalty and Filial Piety: Twelve signs of the Zodiac, the artist having to rely on the accuracy of his portrait to inform the viewer.

This sensitive and beautiful portrait is of the actor Jitsukawa Enzaburo I as the boatman Kikuhei in the kabuki drama Azumamiyage Date no Hinagata performed at the Naka theatre in August 1848. Enzaburo is more commonly known as Jitsukawa Gakujûrô II and was a talented tachiyaku actor specialising in male roles. He died in 1867. In this print Hirosada shows Enzaburo clutching an oar in his right hand, his face in the familiar Hirosada three-quarter profile. A fine actor portrait in good condition, good colours and impression.

The print appears on p. 26 of Ikeda Bunko, Collected Kamigata Actor Prints vol 1,1997.