Kunisada, An Actor from Silhouettes of a Great Variety of Flowering Plants

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) An Actor from Silhouettes of a Great Variety of Flowering Plants,  1861. Oban.

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This terrific print from late in Kunisada’s career is from a rare series, Silhouettes of a Great Variety of Flowering Plants of 1861; the number of prints in the entire set is unknown. A kabuki actor is pictured on a paper lantern, embossed with crimped hoops and outrageous in its bold colouration. The daring, circular motif of the lantern, held top and bottom by black fittings is inscribed with a black key line, the whole ensemble offset against a background of contrastingly delicate flowering grasses, these printed in one of the most delicate of print techniques, an almost nanga style of painting (an Edo style that derives from traditional Chinese brush painting). The engraver has beautifully translated the quick brushstroke that describes the plants and the printer has unevenly inked the blocks to imitate the ebb and flow of the ink and the different pressure of the brush strokes.

A poem slip hangs from the base of the lantern, elegantly curled and opening up the space of the picture. This print continues the use of the mitate, despite the need for elaborate literary disguise no longer being necessary. Kunisada, whilst dismissing the artists of the Osaka school, was nevertheless influenced by their greater technical facility and bold compositions at the end of his career. This print has more than a little influence of Osaka in its design and colouration. 

A fine print, full size and the deluxe version, having the three colour cartouche and burnishing to the lantern and delicate bokashi shading to the background. Colour, impression and condition are all fine.

36.5 x 25.5 cm.