Kunichika, Onoe Kikugoro V as Kakogawa Seijuro

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Onoe Kikugoro V as Kakogawa Seijuro from an untitled series of actor portraits, 1869. 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 print is from the superb and untitled series of actor prints of 1869. The print is something of an enigma since it exists in two states: one, which is in the MFA Boston, has a red background and the other version, (this one) in the British Museum London has the blue background. Aside from this unexplained change of colour, the two prints are identical. The character of the handsome Seijuro is well realised; the actor easily identified by the actor crest (mon). Kikugoro V is perhaps better known to print collectors by his pen name Baiko. Kunichika produced one of his last great portrait series of 100 prints devoted to the different roles of the actor, The One Hundred Roles of Baiko in the 1890’s, some of which are available in this show.

This is a fine and rare print from a collectible series. The design is quite outstanding; the large, crisp portrait study is cropped by the outer frame decorated with Kikugoro’s casual mon, his formal crest appearing on the shoulder of his robe.

A fine print in excellent condition, fine colour and impression throughout. Versions of this print are in the MFA Boston and the British Museum London.

Published by Gusokuya Kahei.

37cm x 25cm.