Kunisada, Actor Portraits Past and Present - Onoe Eizaburo as Akoya

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Actor Portraits Past and Present: Onoe Eizaburo as Akoya, 1863. Deluxe Oban.

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Without doubt Kunisada’s finest series of prints, highly collectible and very rare (especially in such fine condition).  They are remarkable things… bold, expansive and unique in their visual daring. John Fiorillo comments that:

The set was originally scheduled to include 150 works by the leading designer of actor prints, Utagawa Kunisada unfortunately, it was never completed. Only 72 published designs are known, with 12 by Yoshitora, plus two proof prints and two preparatory drawings, for a total of 76 known compositions. Yoshitora joined the project in 1862 for unconfirmed reasons (possibly to assist an overworked or ailing Kunisada). The series was intended to be the crowning achievement in Kunisada's career, with no effort or expense spared in its size or production… In terms of their quality (beautifully executed block cutting, exceptional colors, embossing, and burnishing), the prints from this series are reminiscent of the deluxe limited editions produced in the smaller chuban format in Osaka during the mid-nineteenth century.

Okubi-e (large head portrait prints) are generally credited to the artist Katskawa Shunko I (1743 - 1812); other artists excelled at them among whom Utamaro and Toyokuni I are outstanding. The format was banned by the shogunate in 1800 for around a decade but then started to creep back in popularity. This series by Kunisada and Yoshitora revives the tradition but with the cropping of the margin even closer to the subject making a greater visual impact. As mentioned above, although frequently ignored, Osaka artists were frequent visitors to Kunisada’s studio and were his pupils, having a greater influence on Edo art than is widely credited these days.

This fabulous print depicts Onoe Eizaburo as Akoya. Akoya is the courtesan lover of Kagekiyo who is on the run and in hiding. She is hauled before the court and threatened with torture to reveal the whereabouts of her lover. When she refuses, three instruments of torture are brought to the stage yet she still refuses. Next three musical instruments are brought on and the official Shigetada demands that she plays them. She performs three songs about her love of Kagekiyo so beautifully that Shigetada is convinced that someone who sings so movingly could not also be a liar. The play ends with him confronting the evil torturer Munetsura.

This print is breathtaking - an early impression, there is particularly pronounced woodgrain and the block cutting and the quality and sharpness of the lines is outstanding. Colour, impression and condition are all very fine. Embossing to patterns, burnishing to hairpins and other areas, and burnished shomen-zuri to collar.

Published by Ebisuya Shoshichi, signed nanajukyu sai Toyokuni ga.<

37 x 25 cm.