Kunichika, Vendetta at Hikosan - Bando Hikosaburo V

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Bando Hikosaburo V From the Series Vendetta at Hikosan, 1873. Oban.

The finest and the most sought after of Kunichika prints are probably the two great series of okubi-e (large head) actor portraits from 1869 and 1873. These are extraordinary designs and unprecedented in their boldness and abstraction. Surely deriving from the Osaka portrait in their brevity and design, there are few other  comparable images in Edo ukiyo-e. Kunichika returned to this style only once more in a small series of okubi-e in 1894.

This series of 22 similar full head portraits depicts actors from the hit kabuki play The Vendetta at Hikosan. Kunichika draws the exaggerated, flattened heads of the actors so that they fill, and in places exceed the confines of the decorative border. The border itself illustrates the actor crests of the subject.

In this piece the drawing has to carry all of the description and the interest of the drama; the beautifully described hair and the placement of the facial features describe the character Osono; and the knife, literally cutting the diagonal of the picture, is the bold counterpoint to the thrust of the head.

The Vendetta at Hikosan relates the story of Osono and her fiancé and their revenge, in 1586, of the death of her fencing-master father at the hands of one of his pupils.

A fine and rare print in very good condition. Full size with the complete decorative border, very fine colour and impression, some off-setting upper left.

The print is illustrated in Newland, Time Past and Time Present: Images of a Forgotten Master,  Hotei Publishing 1999. Page 65.

A copy of this print is held at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.