Kunichika, Okubi-e Portrait of Sawamura Tosho as Karukaya Doshin

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Okubi-e Portrait of Sawamura Tosho as Karukaya Doshin, 1869. Oban.

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This is a fine example of what led the Japanese scholar Kojima Usui to acclaim Kunichika as ‘the premier figure since Sharaku in actor portraiture’. It is a simply outstanding piece of art, a magnificent piece of woodblock printing and an extraordinary piece of portraiture. It comes from an untitled series of twenty-two actor portraits of eleven separate actors. The style of the set is directly influenced by the great and career-defining series of Kunisada okubi-e of 1860 - 64. Kunisada oversaw the production of seventy-two prints but died before the set was completed. Yoshitora completed the set and there was discontent that a pupil of Kuniyoshi’s should have been given the task. Kunichika’s first, great okubi-e series is sometimes seen as a response to this perceived slight. Kunichika’s series includes a decorative border studded with the crest of the actor portrayed.

This is one of the finest of the series; the drawing seems based on Kuniyoshi’s memorial portrait of Nakamura Utaemon IV from 1852, with its loose, brushy, expressive lines. The subject of the print is the daimyo Kato Sayemon Shige-uji who fled to Mount Koya to escape a jealous wife, becoming the hermit priest with the new name Karukaya Doshin. His wife searched for him until one day she and her son came to the hermitage where he was hiding. The boy, Ishidomaru, recognised his father by a birthmark, but the priest told the boy go home. Ishidomaru agreed to go, and promised to keep the truth from his mother, so that his father could remain in peace. The story was made famous in a kabuki play by Namiki Sosuke(1694-1750), titled Karukaya Doshin Tsukushi no Iyezuto. Kunichika pictures the character in the robes of a priest.

It is an outstanding print, great art, and a fine piece of work. The colour, condition and impression are all fine, barring a  few surface marks, full size, untrimmed. The print is lightly backed.

Published by Gusokaya Kahei.

37cm x 25cm.