Japanese Antiques by Ichiban Oriental and Asian Art

A Woodblock Print by Shunâei 19th Century - Meiji

A Woodblock Print by Shun’ei 19th Century - Meiji

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Directory: Hidden: Viewable: Pre 1900: Item # 881337

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This is a print of what appears to be a scene from a Kabuki play – I base that on the fact that the palanquin bearer has his eyes crossed in the classic pose (mei) used in Kabuki (for an explanation of “mei” see the ending paragraph). The print portrays a high-ranking woman looking down in anger at a seated palanquin bearer who appears to have made some kind of mistake or dropped his corner of the palanquin. (A palanquin is a covered sedan chair (or litter) carried on four poles.Palanquins were often used in Japan to transport the warrior class and nobility.

The original print would have been printed in the late 18th century. The artist’s signature appears in the lower left hand corner and has been translated as "Shunei Ga" - Shunei painted. Shun’ei was a student of Katsukawa Shunsho. The print measures 10” by 7 ¼” and is in excellent condition. We believe this to be a later edition – quite probably from the late Meiji period, circa 1890s.

Katsukawa Shunshō,1726-1792, was a Japanese painter and printmaker in the ukiyo-e style, and the leading artist of the Katsukawa school. Shunshō is most well-known for introducing a new form of yakusha-e, prints depicting Kabuki actors.

Shunshō became a noted printmaker of actors with his first works dating from 1760. Though originally a member of the Torii school, he soon broke away and began his own style, which would later be dubbed the Katsukawa school. Among his students were the famous ukiyo-e artists Shunchō, Shun'ei, and Hokusai.

The Katsukawa school was a school of Japanese ukiyo-e art, founded by Miyagawa Shunsui. It specialized in paintings (and prints of kabuki actors (yakusha-e), sumo wrestlers, and beautiful women (bijinga). The school was particularly popular in the last decades of the 18th century, and was renowned for its realistic actor portraits.

Have you ever wondered why Japanese prints of actors portray the actor with his eyes crossed. We were curious so traced the reason down. The mie pose ( mie, pronounced 'mee-eh'), a powerful and emotional pose struck by an actor, who then freezes for a moment, is a distinctive element of aragoto Kabuki performance. Mie means 'appearance' or 'visible' in Japanese, and one of the primary purposes of this convention is to draw attention to a particularly important or powerful portion of the performance. It is meant to show a character's emotions at their peak, and can often be a very powerful pose. The actor's eyes are opened as wide as possible; if the character is meant to seem agitated or angry, the actor will cross his eyes. In Japanese, the mie pose is said to be "cut" by the actor.