Hokushu, Kabuki Actor Arashi Rikan III

Shunkosai Hokushu (active 1810 - 1832) Kabuki Actor Arashi Rikan III(?), 1825-1830. Oban.

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This very rare print (I can find no record of it) is by the important and collectible Osaka School artist Shunkosai Hokushu. Hokushu is largely credited with establishing the Osaka style and developing an industry around printmaking in the city. He represents the earliest of the new wave of print artists at the start of the nineteenth century. It is said that he was a paper merchant and pupil of the print designer Shokosai Hanbei. He was the leading Osaka portraitist during the 1820’s and really developed the distinctive look of Osaka prints, producing the earliest of the chuban format portrait heads with their lush printing, metallic embellishments and deep embossing in a portrait of Kataoka Nizaemon VII as Matsunaga Daizen in 1816.

The richness and what one might term 'density' of Osaka School prints undoubtedly had a powerful influence on the direction that Edo prints were to take in the 1830’s and later. That density, that saturation is just visible in this completely outstanding work.

I am very moved by this print. There is a sadness and a longing in the pose and the expression that hint at a potential darkness in the subject. I suspect the print is a portrait of the young actor Arashi Rikan III. The pose, and the irises which the actor holds in the downward pointing position are all indicators of a exploitative homoeroticism that was rife in the kabuki theatre at the time. The exploitation of young boys is well attested and led to recorded suicides in the febrile and bohemian circles of the backstage world - one that was unregulated and yet infiltrated by zealous government moral spies - Weimar in the 1830’s! Irises are associated with youthful male beauty, and young men portrayed with irises is one of a number of ukiyo-e themes adapted by Otsu-e painters for their own compositions. Young kabuki actors were called yaro during the early seventeenth century and were often the subject of lustful obsessions by older theatre goers both male and female.

This is a great print and important I think. There is a real quality to the printing, the colours are dense and outstanding, the impression is crisp and very clean. The print is scuffed and the background a little worn. With the exception of a wormhole at the base, the condition is very good.

22.9 cm x 36.1 cm.