Kunichika, Sawamura Tanosuke III as the Geisha O-Ben

Toyohara Kunichika (1835 - 1899) Sawamura Tanosuke III as the Geisha O-Ben, 10th month of 1860. Oban.

This print from the series Ume No Haru Kasumi No Hikizome, portrays the male actor Sawamura Tanosuke playing a geisha from his series The First Mists of Spring. It is likely that this is Tanosuke III, a well respected onnagata, or female impersonator who experienced a tragic life.  In 1865, at the height of his career, he contracted gangrene from a foot injury. He was taken to the open port of Yokohama where an American missionary amputated both his feet. Despite this disability, he continued to act on stage, supported by two black clad stage hands, and remained extremely popular with audiences. Perhaps all would have been well for Tanosuke had his wife not started an affair with an understudy, leading to a deterioration in his health and sanity.  Sawamura Tanosuke died insane in 1878.

A fine early printing of the first edition; the background is richly embossed and there is extensive gradation of the colours throughout. Good colour and impression, the print suffers some soiling to the bottom left hand side. Overall, very good.

Publisher: Tsujiokaya Bunsuke

A copy of this print is in the collection of the William Sturgis Bigelow Collection Museum of Fine Arts Boston.