Hirosada, Okubi-e of an Osaka Actor

Konishi Hirosada (ca 1810 - 1864) Okubi-e of an Osaka Actor, 1848. Deluxe Chuban.

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The large-head portraits of Osaka kabuki actors by the woodblock artist Konishi Hirosada are among the best prints of the nineteenth century. Two or three things jump out of these prints which immediately differentiate them from their near neighbours in Edo. Firstly, their size - nearly all Osaka prints are printed onto chuban size paper: 19 x 25 cm. Secondly, almost all of these prints are outstanding in their quality; that is, the number of colours and the the lavish use of metallic pigment and the often superior paper. But what about the look of these mainly portrait prints?

Like the Renaissance artist, Giotto or the Spaniard, el Greco, there is a physiognomy to these intimate and careful portraits that is immediately distinguishable - a roundness of features, a narrowness to the eyes and enigmatically, a longing in the expression which seems to add an extraordinary and touching intimacy to what are in the main actor portraits. This print and its companion are examples of the deluxe Osaka print; that is prints where exceptional effort and expense were put into the manufacture of the piece. This might include (as in this case), expensive metallic inks, embossed decoration of the paper and multiple shaded over-printing (bokashi).

Osaka was particularly devastated by government prohibitions on the portrayal of kabuki actors, leading to an almost complete collapse of production during the 1840’s. Artists resorted, slowly, to testing the boundaries of the law by producing untitled actor portraits, frequently unsigned, in limited editions for consumption by cognoscenti. These prints, as in this case, went under bland titles suggesting worthy moral subjects such as Tales of Filial Piety.

A jewel of a print, the role and play unknown. The background is rich with oxidised silver, the delicate over-printing of the robes is especially subtle. The print has been remargined at some point in the past - colour impression and condition are all fine, except for some damage to the re-margining (repaired), to the top left corner.

19cm x 26cm.