Kunichika, Modern Eastern Fans - Ichimura Kakitsu IV

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Modern Eastern Fans (Tosei azuma uchiwa): Ichimura Kakitsu IV, 1867.  Oban.

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Another print by Kunichika, also from 1867, this time of the actor Ichimura Kakitsu IV.  Despite the relaxation of prohibitions on actor prints by the 1860’s, the habit of artists to find new ways of representing popular theatre stars was well established. Artists looked to diverse vehicles to carry actor portraits… fans were popular, as in this case, but so too were bats and sake cups, bowls, dishes and all sorts of everyday objects. Actors were compared to commercial products, restaurants and poems as the craze for images of actors became widespread.

In this case, the modern, or fixed fan is here used to carry the image of Kakitsu. Confusingly, kabuki actors were gifted names and these assumed names changed as their careers developed. This portrait is correctly attributed to Ichimura Kakitsu IV, but the actor went on to 'become' one of the two most famous kabuki actors of all time… the great Baiko, (Onoe Kikugoro V). This print is relatively early in his career and marks the early stages of a relationship with Kunichika that was to last to his death in 1900. Most famous of the hundreds of prints that Kunichika made of Baiko is the series commemorating One Hundred Roles played by the famous actor… a staggering achievement.

Kunichika shows Kakitsu as if painted on a rigid bamboo fan. But he’s not really… the drawing makes him look like a small animated version of himself - he’s interacting with the poem slip which is outside the frame of the fan. A further twist is that the poem on the fluttering paper is written by the actor himself and in his own hand. These pictorial anachronisms are not uncommon in Japanese prints. In the west, questioning the supremacy of the frame, the picture plane and the illusion is a sophistication not seen until the ironies of modernism and the self conscious posturing of decadent flaneurs. In Japan, these visual games were all part of the intensely rich visual world of the artist. A world which was fully understood and appreciated by the print buying public. Hogarth’s Satire on False Perspective of 1754 is one of the few examples of this sort of knowing game that I can think of.

A very good Kunichika in good condition with a fine impression and colour.

Publisher Maruya Heijiro.

37 x 25 cm.