Kunisada, Ichimura Uzaemon XII as Asagao-uri Take

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Ichimura Uzaemon XII as Asagao-uri Take from an untitled actor series, 1852. Oban.

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This bold and delightful print is from an enigmatic series of which only two prints are known to exist. The strong  design might be seen as a forerunner to later series, an example of which is in the current exhibition. Partly as a result of prohibition and partly as a creative departure, ukiyo-e artists made many different series using household objects as the support for actor portraits‚Ķ Kunisada made series like this of actors drawn on lanterns, sake cups and bowls, andons, pipes and mirrors. The genre allowed the artist to play with space and with the conceit of a palimpsest - a picture within a picture. In this print the paper lantern takes on many of the attributes of its real equivalent. The white paper surface is embossed with concentric lines and it feels as though one could lift the image out of the frame and put it to use.

The portrait is of the actor Ichimura Uzaemon XII as Asagao-uri Take who is a morning glory seller. As the social order of Edo Japan collapsed, members of the samurai class were obliged to earn money and many became home workers (naishoku). They included umbrella makers, toy makers, bird breeders and flower sellers. These were genteel pursuits and the morning glory vendors would sell the popular plants from yokes at street markets.

It is a beautiful thing, this print. The delicacy of the work mimics the humble nature of the subject who is drawn with an expression of deep humility. Colour and impression are all fine and there is embossing to the lantern.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo, signed Toyokuni ga.

A copy of this print is in the MFA Boston.

37 x 26 cm.