Kunisada, Actors in Play with Mouse

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Nakamura Shibajaku IV as Tobae no Masuroku, Nakamura Shikan IV as the Cartoon Character Masuroku (Toba-e no Masuroku), unknown actor as a Young Mouse (Konezumi), 1860. Oban diptych.

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A fantastic diptych, filled with dynamic pattern and colour. The print - a true diptych - shows actors in a kabuki play that remains horribly elusive. The play is titled Kikkoden Goshiki no Kumiito but unfortunately the plot and characters are unknown. Despite these frustrations, the print is very rich and the figure of the mouse shows the equivocal 'realism' of kabuki costumes very well.  The all-over pattern of the background is extremely unusual in prints of this time, unique even. There is no real clue to the diamond shaped motif itself, it is neither an actor mon nor a family crest; and the distribution of the actors in a horseshoe around the centre served only to emphasise the boldness of the design.  There is therefore no real space as such in this print. The actors appear as cut out, pasted to the highly coloured backdrop of lozenges.

There is a copy of the right hand sheet in the MFA in Boston;  and a potential link to an Osaka print which uses one of the same characters. 

Colour, condition and impression are all fine.