Japanese Antiques by Ichiban Oriental and Asian Art
A Japanese Woodblock Print - Toyokuni I - Actor - Edo

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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Asian: Japanese: Woodblock Prints: Pre 1837 VR: item # 930779

Please refer to our stock # ICHI 126 when inquiring.

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Ichiban Japanese & Oriental Antiques
Post Office Box 395
Marion, CT 06444-0395

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A Japanese Woodblock Print - Toyokuni I - Actor - Edo
Here we have a antoher fine framed print of an actor by one of the early masters of actor prints, Utagawa Toyokuni. The actor is shown in a costume that has a rust red over robe under which is a garment mon like crests on a tan background.The actor stands on the edge of a lake with green hills behind. The actor’s name is that of "Bando Mitsoguro" - we do not know the Kabuki play in which the scene is played. Whatever the play, it must be a dramatic moment as the actor has his eyes crossed in the “mie” pose – see below.

The framed print measures 21 ¼” by 17 ¼” – the image is 15” by 10 ½”. Not examined out of the frame. The color is still quite vibrant and the registration is excellent. We date the print to the period 1890s- 1820. It is signed "Toyokuni Ga" (Toyokuni painted).

Utagawa Toyokuni (1769, Edo - February 24, 1825, Edo) - also often referred to as Toyokuni I, to distinguish him from the members of his school who took over his gō (art-name after he died) was a great master of ukiyo-e, known in particular for his Kabuki actor prints. He was one of the heads of the renowned Utagawa school of Japanese woodblock artists, and was the person who really moved it to the position of great fame and power it occupied for the rest of the nineteenth century. In his actor prints, like Sharaku, one sees the real subject; but his prints merely portrayed what he saw, unlike Sharaku who exaggerated those aspects he saw as the most key. It is said of Toyokuni's prints that they recreate exactly what one would see on stage; they show actors acting, not merely just pictures of actors.

In the first decade of the 19th century, this series increased the reputation of the publisher Nishimuraya Yohachi, Eijudo. From 1795 to 1797 Toyokuni added more than fifty works to the series of "Kabuki Actors on Stage" (Yakusa butai no sugata-e). As his fame spread, his confidence grew, and his works became more daring and original, with a conspicuous personal style that is unmistakable. The Kabuki stage was his inspiration, and since he took great pains to represent the actors' abilities in his prints, their expressions and gestures became more and more fierce and exaggerated.

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.

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