Enjaku, 7 Syllables of the Iroha - Ichikawa Jutaro in the Syllable Se

Enjaku (active 1856 - 1866) Seven Syllables of the Iroha: Portrait of Ichikawa Jutaro in the syllable Se, 1859. Deluxe Chuban.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

Enjaku was an Osaka printmaker who produced around 140 deluxe prints which survive in very small numbers and are difficult to obtain. Although nothing is known about his biography, he is arguably the most important transitional artist entering the last phase of printmaking in Osaka. His prints are characterised by luxurious techniques - metallic pigments, embossing, colour blends and multiple printings. Often his work was privately commissioned hence the short print runs and the fine quality of the carving and the impressions.

The scholar John Fiorillo has published a monograph on the artist and writes the following description of this series:   

This is one of Enjaku's designs for the series Nanatsu iroha (Seven syllables of the Japanese alphabet), a group of prints that he co-designed with Kunikazu and Yoshitaki, which were all published by Ishiwa. This deluxe-edition set was issued for various performances circa 1857-1865, plus a few mitate ("view and compare," or analogue pictures) for imaginary productions. Each design included seven different ideograms or kanji pronounced the same, either matching the pronunciation of the first character of the actor's role or suggesting an alternate association with the actor, role, or play. All the designs include a hand scroll at the top with the actor's name (if included), play title, and series title. Enjaku's signatures on his designs are placed in either the scroll or the background behind the actors.

We have shown a previous work by this very rare and collectible artist also from this series,  and the Kunikazu portrait of Arashi Kichisaburo above (link) is also from the same, unlikely, collaborative series. The writing is in the same brass pigment (nicely oxidised) and the scroll carrying the seven Chinese characters of the Iroha are the same in each of the three prints.

Fiorillo notes that:

Enjaku specialized in designing actor prints made with luxurious techniques (metallics, embossing, burnishing, expensive pigments, gradated shading, multiple hues of a single color). He worked with the finest Osaka block cutters and printers of the late Edo period. In some cases his portraits were significantly enhanced by the quality of the printing, and these prints are among the most impressive examples of the printmaker's art at the start of the final period in Osaka.

A fine deluxe print with margins in mint condition. Excellent colour and impression.

Published by Ishiwa, signed Enjaku.

18cm x 25cm.