Kunichika, 100 Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro IX - Tadanobu

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Tadanobu (Genkuro), from the series One Hundred Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro IX, 1898. Oban.

This print is quite exceptional in its preservation, also in the lavishness with which it has been produced. A deluxe edition series, the One Hundred Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro, displays all of the superlative techniques available to artists of the period. The series was produced on thick, high quality paper, the extensive embossing (karazuri) of the white gown is crisp and very deep and there is liberal use of scattered, reflective mica. Often the mica in these prints has worn off but in this case the cream background shimmers with reflected light.

The print shows the actor Ichikawa Danjuro IX in the role of Sato Tadanobu, a retainer of the hero Yoshitsune. He rescues Yoshitsune’s lover, Shikuza Gozen from Yoshitzune’s brother Yoritomo. In the popular folk tale and the kabuki play (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees, Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura), all is not as it seems. Tadanobu (later called Genkuro) is an adopted name and the character Danjuro plays is in fact a kitsune - a shape shifting fox-spirit. Late in the play when Tadanobu is challenged he reveals that the Hatsune drum carried by Yoshitsune is made from the skins of his parents who died four hundred years previously. He has taken the form of Tadanobu in order to retrieve the object. At the conclusion, the fox spirit departs dramatically to a flamboyant dance, returning later to defend Yoshitsune once more.

Kunichika depicts Tadanobu in the white fox furs traditional to the role and carrying the Hatsune drum made from the flayed skins of his parents in his right hand. He is shown dancing the kitsune-roppo at the conclusion of the dramatic scene. This print feels very modern - the unusual cloud and motif shapes of the background and the sinuous shape of the dancing Danjuro. The drawing here is very good; note the delicate left hand and the sparse, effective use of the blue. The title cartouche is decorated with the peonies which were associated with the Danjuro line of actors.

The print is full size with marginalia. The impression is very fine of the first edition, the colour and the condition are outstanding. The embossing is astonishingly and unusually clean.

Signed Kunichika Hitsu with Toshidama seal. Published by Fukuda Kamijiro.