Kunichika, 100 Roles of Baiko - Akechi

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) One Hundred Roles of Baiko (Baiko Hyakushu no Uchi) #46: Akechi, with Bando Hikosaburo playing Takechi Mitsuhide, 1893. Deluxe Oban.

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Another terrific print in the outstanding series, One Hundred Roles of Baiko from 1893. In this print, the kabuki actor Onoe Kikugoro V plays the role of Akechi from the play Ehon Taikoki.  The play consisted originally of thirteen acts, one act for each day that passed between Akechi Mitsuhide's murder of Oda Nobunaga and his death at the hand of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  … Toyotomi Hideyoshi was away, laying siege to the castle of Takamatsu in Bicchu, the last stronghold of Nobunaga's enemy Mori Motonari. Ieyasu was awaiting Nobunaga at Sakai with a small contingent. Mitsuhide arranged for Sakai to be surrounded at the same time as he made his own coup. Ieyasu escaped capture through the friendly warning of a local tea-grower. Mitsuhide had, however, underestimated Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Having brought Takamatsu Castle to its last gasp, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was able to conclude a speedy truce with Mori. He hurried back to Kyoto by forced marches, surprised Mitsuhide at Yamazaki, and defeated him. Legend has it that Toyotomi Hideyoshi killed Mitsuhide with his own hand, but, in fact, he was cut down by a peasant as he fled from the field.  From a synopsis on the fine kabuki compendium, Kabuki 21.

Kunichika shows Takechi in full armour, his hand raised defiantly; in the upper cartouche is depicted the actor Bando Hikosaburo as Hideyoshi.

This magnificent series, of which this is one of the best and the richest designs, conveys Kunichika’s mastery of role and character depiction better than any other. It prompted the celebrated Kunichika scholar, Kojima Usui to acclaim Kunichika as ‘the premier figure since Sharaku in actor portraiture’. A decent Sharaku starts at around $50,000 - luckily for us a decent Kunichika from this series is considerably more affordable.

Kunichika was an aficionado and intimate of all the great kabuki actors of the day. The actor Onoe Kikugoro V was one such friend. He was a hugely successful actor who took the stage name Baiko from the pen name of his ancestor Onoe Kikugoro, who died in 1783. In 1893 Kunichika was commissioned by the publisher Fukuda Kumajiro to produce one hundred prints celebrating the roles of the great actor. The series (like the Danjuro) was printed on the finest paper and used all of the deluxe techniques available to artists at the time: the surfaces are sprinkled with mica (encrusted in this case) and lavishly embossed and burnished with deep reflective blacks and shomenzuri patterns.

The prints are designed to an identical format. The bulk of the sheet shows Baiko in a typical scene from the role; often the pose is a dramatic and emotional moment in the drama. Baiko was a commoner and espoused the popular roles of the time that showed the travails of the common Edo townsman. Many of the prints also show roles that no longer use traditional scenes or props… some of the characters sport modern, western cropped hair styles, known as zangiri mono or derive from dramas that illustrate characters from the Meiji revolution. This flexibility made Baiko a popular and modern actor of his time.

The upper part of the sheet is devoted to a scene from the particular play, featuring a ‘supporting actor’. Within that division there is a further sub-division describing the play and the plot, and in black on the far right is the series title.

A very fine print from the series, colour, condition and impression are all fine.

Published by Fukuda Kumajiro.

38cm x 26 cm.