Kunichika, The Pavilion in the Sky

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) The Pavilion in the Sky, c. 1884. Oban triptych.

This is a fantasy piece, or indeed a ‘fan’ piece. Kunichika here represents some of the most popular and notorious kabuki villains and actors, heroes and heroines, not on stage but in a fantasy pavilion in the clouds. The congregation of characters is in the imagination, of the artist and by implication, of the viewer. These assemblages were not uncommon: there was a vogue for these imaginary group portraits in formats such as sugoroku board games; they were also sometimes commissioned by theatres to advertise the forthcoming season of plays.

This is a terrific and vibrant piece. Kunichika pictures the tragic hero of the story of the mandarin ducks; Gonpachi is shown played by Ichikawa Danjuro; Inuzuka Shino - one of the eight dog heroes - is pictured fighting on the roof of the building; Iwafuji played by Iwai Matsunosuke is shown holding a parasol; Onoe Kikugoro plays the dramatic airborne cat-witch hovering above the scene; Ogata Jiraiya played by Danjuro takes centre stage; and the bandit king Goemon played by Nakamura Shikan leans aggressively over the balcony of the red temple.

The print is awash with vignettes and action from the great kabuki hits of the nineteenth century; colour, impression and condition are all good, a nice piece.

28cm x 71cm.