Toshihide, Portraits of Sansho - Ichikawa Danjuro IX as Umeomaru, 1893

Toshihide Migita (1863-1925) Portraits of Sansho: Ichikawa Danjuro IX as Umeomaru, 1893. Oban.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

Our Meiji exhibition Art of the Meiji - The Empire Strikes Back from October 2012 contained some very fine pieces from the end of the nineteenth century and charted the demise of the various genres under the shadow of Japanese modernisation. The decline in kabuki theatre prints is perhaps the most distressing, because with the fading of that tradition was also the diminishing of the great folk stories and myths that were the staple of the kabuki dramatists. Elsewhere, the landscape tradition became embroiled with the various opportunistic wars of the new government, and the warrior tradition faded with the death of the great Yoshitoshi. In fact, and although sometimes derided, the last hurrah of the Japanese print makers produced some of the finest technical achievements ever and, as in the case of this print, some of the most powerful designs.

This great portrait of Danjuro IX in full Kumadori makeup is taken from one of the great kabuki dramas Suguwara and the Secrets of Calligraphy. Danjuro plays the character Umeomaru, identified by the plum blossoms on his kimono as well as the makeup. The various plays on the theme concern the life of Sugawara no Michizane (845 - 903) renowned scholar and calligrapher and his quarrels with the Emperor and his subsequent banishment. When adapted to the stage, contemporary events expanded the story:

At the time when the authors were working on the play, a great stir was caused in Osaka by the birth of triplets. It was therefore decided to make use of triplets in the new production and thus it was that Matsuomaru, Umeomaru and Sakuramaru came into being. For the purpose of the story, the triplets are the sons of Sugawara's retainer, Shiratayu. When they were born, Sugawara stood sponsor to all three and named them after the trees he loved best, Matsu (Pine), Ume (Plum) and Sakura (Cherry).(The Kabuki Handbook)

Ichikawa Danjuro IX (Sansho) dominated the kabuki scene at the end of the nineteenth century. The bulk of kabuki portraits of any quality tend to be of Danjuro in his notable roles - a deliberate policy of the the actor and the theatres to keep the now flagging kabuki scene alive. The most famous of these homages is the great series 100 Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro by Kunichika from the late 1890’s. These portraits by Toshihide from 1893 predict that series in style and composition.

Toshihide depicts Umeomaru in dramatic pose, the rich patterns and colours of the robes bursting from the lower half of the print, exploiting the decorative potential of the Kumadori make up and the elaborate hairpiece. Full size with marginalia, fine impression and colour, some slight aging to the lower left.

25cm x 37cm.