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Utagawa Kunisada Woodblock Print; Yakusha-e Actor portrait circa 1860

SKU: Utagawa Kunisada woodblock 1 $395.00
Yakusha-e, actor portrait Woodblock okubi-e print by Utagawa Kunisada, circa 1860. One Nanushi: "censor seal" and publisher cartouche. Signed: Oju Kochoro Toyokuni-ga. The actor is reflected in a mirror. Censor seal translation; San saru uru aratame: Monkey year, extra month following third month, examined, 1860. Extraordinary richness of detail and color. Measures: 10" wide x 14.5" long. Condition: typical tape in mounting positions on back not affecting front; small moisture spot to top, right corner; small moisture mark to bottom, right corner; some light toning; Unframed; Fine+ condition. Utagawa Kunisada (1786 '' January 12, 1865) (Japanese: ­ › 1/2 ž, also known as Utagawa Toyokuni III ­› 1/2 ) was the most popular and financially successful designer of ukiyo-e woodblock prints in 19th-century Japan. In his own time, his reputation far exceeded that of his contemporaries, Hokusai, Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi. Evaluation of Kunisada in art history: At the end of the Edo Period (1600 '' 1867), Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi and Kunisada were the three best representatives of the Japanese color woodcut in Edo (capital city of Japan, now Tokyo). However, among European and American collectors of Japanese prints, beginning in the late 19th and early 20th century, all three of these artists were actually regarded as rather inferior to the greats of classical ukiyo-e, and therefore as having contributed considerably to the downfall of their art. For this reason, some referred to their works as decadent. Beginning in the 1930s and 1970s, respectively, the works of Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi were submitted to a re-evaluation, and these two are now counted among the masters of their art. Thus, from Kunisada alone was withheld, for a long time, the acknowledgment which is due to him. With a few exceptions, such as actor portraits (yakusha-e) and portraits of beautiful women (bijinga), at the beginning of his career, and some series of large-size actor head-portraits near the end, it was thought that he had produced only inferior works. It was not until the early 1990s, with the appearance of Jan van Doesburgs overview of the artistic development of Kunisada, and Sebastian Izzards extensive study of his work, that this picture began to change, with Kunisada more clearly revealed as one of the giants of the Japanese print that he was. Biography: Although not much is known of the details of Kunisadas life, there do exist some well-established facts. He was born 1786 in Honjo, an eastern district of Edo. His given name was Sumida Shgor IX (''',,''-), and was also called Sumida Shz (''',,''). A small licensed and hereditary ferry-boat service belonged to his family, and the income derived from this business provided a certain basic financial security. His father, who was an amateur poet of some renown, died in the year after his birth. While growing up as a half-orphan, it seems he developed an early talent for painting and drawing . His early sketches at that time impressed Toyokuni, the great master of the Utagawa school and prominent designer of kabuki and actor-portrait prints. In the year 1800 or shortly thereafter Kunisada was accepted by Toyokuni I as an apprentice in his workshop. In keeping with a tradition of Japanese master-apprentice relations, he was then given the official artist name of KUNI-sada, the first character of which was derived from the second part of the name Toyo-KUNI. His first known print dates to the year 1807, however this seems to have been an exceptional design, and further full-sized prints appear starting only in 1809 - 1810. However as of 1808 he had already begun work as an illustrator of ehon (woodblock print illustrated books) and his popularity was fast increasing. In 1809 he was referred to in contemporary sources as the star attraction of the Utagawa school, and soon thereafter was considered as at least equal to his teacher Toyokuni in the area of book illustration. Kunisadas first actor portraits appeared in either 1808 or 1809. It is known that his first bijinga series and a series of pentaptychs showing city scenes of Edo, appear simultaneously in 1809. By 1813 he had risen as a star in the constellation of Edos artistic world (a contemporary list of the most important ukiyo-e artists places him in second place behind Toyokuni I) and until his death in early 1865, Kunisada remained one of the trendsetters of the Japanese woodblock print. Beginning around 1810 Kunisada used the studio name Gototei, which refers cryptically to his fathers ferry-boat business. Until 1842 this signature appeared on nearly all of his kabuki designs. Around 1825 the studio name Kochoro appeared, and was often used on prints not related to kabuki. This name was derived from a combination of the pseudonyms of master painter Hanabusa Itcho, and that of his successor Hanabusa Ikkei, with whom Kunisada had studied a new style of painting around 1824 - 1825. In 1844, he finally adopted the name of his master Toyokuni I, and for a brief time used the signature Kunisada becoming Toyokuni II". Starting in 1844-1845, all of his prints are signed Toyokuni (partially with the addition of other studio names as prefixes, such as Kochoro and Ichiyosai). Although Kunisada referred to himself as Toyokuni II, he must be regarded, however, as Toyokuni III. The question is unsettled as to why he intentionally ignored the fact that Toyoshige (pupil and son-in-law of Toyokuni I) had borne the name Toyokuni, as legitimate head of the Utagawa school, from 1825 until his own death in 1835. The date of Kunisada's death was the 15th day of the 12th month of the First Year of Genji. Most sources erroneously report this as having been in the year 1864. In fact, this date in the Chinese/Japanese calendar corresponds to the date January 12, 1865, in our Western calendar. Kunisada died in the same neighborhood in which he had been born. Artistic activity: Almost from the first day of his activity, and even at the time of his death in early 1865, Kunisada was a trendsetter in the art of the Japanese woodblock print. Always at the vanguard of his time, and in tune with the tastes of the public, he continuously developed his style, which was sometimes radically changed, and did not adhere to stylistic constraints set by any of his contemporaries. Kunisadas paintings, which were privately commissioned, are little-known, but can be compared to those of other masters of ukiyoe painting. His activity as a book illustrator is also largely unexplored. Obviously he was no less productive in the area of ehon than he was in full-sized prints, but major research in this area is lacking. Notable among his book prints are shunga pictures, which appeared in numerous books, but due to censorship, signed only on the title page with his alias Matahei. Landscape prints and musha-e (samurai warrior prints) by Kunisada are rare, and only about 100 designs in each of these genres are known. He effectively left these two fields to be covered by his contemporaries Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi, respectively. The mid-1840s and early 1850s, were a period of expansion when woodblock prints were in high demand in Japan. During this time Kunisada collaborated with (one or both of) Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi in three major series as well as on a number of smaller projects. The fact should be emphasized that this co-operation was in large part politically motivated in order to demonstrate solidarity against the intensified censorship regulations of the Tenpo reforms. Also beginning around the mid-1850s there are series in which individual parts of designs (and sometimes complete sheets) are signed by Kunisadas students, this was done with the intention of promoting their work as individual artists. Notable students of Kunisada included Toyohara Kunichika, Utagawa Sadahide and Utagawa Kunisada II. Nanushi: From 1790 until 1876 (when formal censorship ceased), all woodblock prints had to be examined by official censors, and marked with their seals. From 1842 to 1853, individual censors called Nanushi. marked prints with their individual seals, bearing characters from their names. During the period from 1842 to 1846, these seals are found singly. From 1847 to 1853, the Nanushi marked prints in pairs. Yakusha-e: Yakusha-e ( 1/2 ¹€…), often referred to as "actor prints" in English, are Japanese woodblock prints or, rarely, paintings, of kabuki actors, particularly those done in the ukiyo-e style popular through the Edo period (1603''1867) and into the beginnings of the 20th century. Most strictly, the term yakusha-e refers solely to portraits of individual artists (or sometimes pairs, as seen in this work by Sharaku). However, prints of kabuki scenes and of other elements of the world of the theater are very closely related, and were more often than not produced and sold alongside portraits. Ukiyo-e images were almost exclusively images of urban life; the vast majority that were not landscapes were devoted to depicting courtesans, sumo, or kabuki. Woodblock prints would be sold as promotional materials outside the theaters, and would be quite inexpensive, the equivalent of roughly 300 to 500 yen ($ 2.57 to $ 4.30, € 2.00 to € 3.35) today. Realistic detail, inscriptions, the availability of playbills from the period, and a number of other resources have allowed many prints to be analyzed and identified in great detail. Scholars have been able to identify the subjects of many prints down to not only the play, roles, and actors portrayed, but often the theater, year, month, and even day of the month as well.