Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Shini-e of Ichikawa Danjuro VIII, 1854. Oban.
This beautiful print by Kunisada is a shini-e or memorial portrait of the superstar kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro VIII. It is hard to imagine but kabuki actors were enormously popular, much like pop stars or movie stars today. Typically, the memorial portraits showed the actor in blue robes (the colour of death) in a buddhist setting, usually with a death poem written by the subject themselves or else composed on their behalf.
Kunisada pictures Danjuro in blue robes, seated in front of an incense burner, a death poem in script behind him. His crest appears lightly printed in a banded framework around the top and bottom of the page - bleeding to the edge to suggest that this forms a part of a brocaded scroll; an unusual device. The drawing and colouration are especially delicate and Kunisada, like the rest of the Edo population would have held this fine, popular actor in high regard.
Danjuro died by slicing his own wrists at a wayside inn - although some shini-e show him committing seppuku with a sword whilst being held by his father. There was immense and widespread shock at his death and so prints such as this one formed important memorials for his adoring fans. The reasons for his suicide are unknown, although it is assumed that his immense and early success and the spite of fellow actors was to blame.
This is an unusual and very good example of shini-e and commemorates an important man and, by his death an important event. The condition of the print is excellent, the colours remain delicate but unfaded. The sheet is full sized and from a strong impression. Strong woodgrain visible in the horizontal blue stripes.
24.5cm x 36.0cm.