Kunichika, Ichikawa Danjuro IX as Kyumonryu and Ichikawa Sadanji I as Rochishin Fighting in the Snow

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Ichikawa Danjuro IX as Kyumonryu and Ichikawa Sadanji I as Rochishin Fighting in the Snow (Suikoden yuki no danmari), 1886. Oban Triptych.

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This masterful and stunning triptych commemorates a memorable event in kabuki theatre. The danmari of the title is a slow, tense and highly stylised dance. In this case, the choreographed performance between two superstars of the kabuki theatre acting out the role of two heroes of the Suikoden, (water margin) a popular compendium of stories relating the activities of a gang of good hearted bandits in ancient China. The performances were a highlight of the 1886 season at the Shintomiza theatre in Tokyo, partly because of the extraordinary quality of the dance and also because of the dramatic staging and the lavish tattoos that covered the bared bodies of both performers. These decorations were painted, skin tight sleeves of silk, stretched over the arms and torsos of the actors to emulate real tattoos. Danjuro on the left has dragons whilst Sadanji has cherry blossoms.

Kyumonryu Shishin is also called the nine dragoned (hence the tattoos), while Kaosho Rochisin was a former military captain turned monk. In the dance and the print, the two super heroes are fighting in the snow. It is a very fine and memorable print. Kunichika must have been very taken with the performance since he created several versions of the piece each nearly identical. I am not familiar with any other copies of this exact design which has the red block missing from the body of Kyumonryu and some blocks missing from the arm on the right hand sheet. It is inconceivable that the publisher would have released incomplete editions and it is likely that this is a proof from a design that was later abandoned.

It is a fantastic, explosive visual piece, filled with energy and superb drawing. The impression is fine as is colour and condition. Full size.

Signed Toyohara Kunichika hitsu, published by Komiyama Shohei. Two seals.

36cm x 72cm.