Kunikazu, 7 Syllables of the Iroha - Arashi Kichiksaburo as Asahina Tobei

Utagawa Kunikazu (active 1849 - 1867) Seven Syllables of the Iroha: Arashi Kichisaburo in the role of Asahina Tobei, 1859. Deluxe Chuban.

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This superb print of an actor’s head is by the highly regarded Osaka artist Kunikazu. The dramatic - and bloody - print is in mint condition. Of the first, deluxe edition the surface is riven by vertical lines of mirrored, metallic ink representing the rain. The blood on the actor's hands and his jacket is richly and thickly applied by hand with gum giving a reflective and coagulated quality to the surface. Where the vertical lines of rain cross the actor’s body, they are incised into the paper surface by blind embossing. Equally remarkable, the fine hair lines on the side of the head are also deeply embossed. I don’t think I have seen a print with such lavish detail and all of it so fresh and so well preserved.

Kunikazu was a popular and successful artist who is probably best known for the few series of landscape prints produced in the latter part of the nineteenth century. His kabuki pieces are very notable and often of a very high quality.

The print illustrates a character from the play Gokusai Shiki Musume Ogi. Tobei inadvertently murders his stepbrother, a pious and blind young man, on a rainy night. We see Tobei recoiling in horror as the rain falls around him and the gelatinous blood sticks to his hands and coat. The print is from a series based on the seven syllables of the Iroha (a popular subject for Japanese print artists). The Iroha is an alphabet system based on an old Buddhist poem.

In very fine condition, a deluxe print with superb colour and a very fresh impression of the first edition.

Published by Ishiwa.

18cm x 24cm.