Kunichika, 100 Roles of Baiko - Onoe Kikugoro as Tsuneyo

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) One Hundred Roles of Baiko (Baiko Hyakushu no Uchi) Onoe Kikugoro as Tsuneyo, 1893. Oban.

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Sebastian Izzard described Kunisada’s late actor portrait series of okubi-e as 'a monument to his career'. It is justifiable to say that the two series One Hundred Roles of Baiko and its companion One Hundred Roles of Ichikawa Danjuro IX are Kunichika’s equivalent late and crowning achievement. This magnificent series 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’.

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 100 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 and lavishly embossed and burnished with deep reflective blacks and shomenzuri patterns.

This print shows Baiko as Tsuneyo in the kabuki drama, Hachi-no-ki ("The Potted Trees").  It is a simple enough story; in 1383 the Supreme Governor to the shogun Tokiyori Hojo, retired to live as a monk. After some years he travelled to Japan to see how ordinary people lived, and chanced one snowy night upon a hovel. Inside the hovel was Tsuneyo. Tsuneyo did not recognise the shogun’s governor but offered to burn his last three beloved bonsai trees to keep the traveller warm. These were the remnants of his previous wealth. Later when the shogun assembled an army, Tsuneyo offered his service, riding his ancient horse. In recognition of his loyalty and sacrifice, Tokiyori gives him three provinces, naming them Ume ("plum"), Sakura ("cherry"), and Matsu ("pine"), in gratitude for Tsuneyo’s sacrificed trees.

The upper cartouche shows the famous actor, Ichikawa Danjuro as the governor, dressed as a Buddhist monk. A very fine print from the series, colour, condition and impression are all fine. Full size with margins (and Kunichika’s address down the side).

Published by Fukuda Kumajiro.

38cm x 26 cm.