Rare & Large Japanese Woodblock Advertising Print of Kabuki Actor. Meiji Period
27 1/4 x 9 7/8 ins. (69.3 x 25.2 cms) Although this print is kakemono-e (vertical diptych) size it is printed on one sheet of paper, which is unusual as the blocks would have to be correspondingly large and thus expensive. The design is a reminder that Ukiyoe was an intensely commercial enterprise and famous actors would often feature in advertising prints and poster, just as modern actors appear in TV commercials. The actor portrayed is probably Kataoka Nizaemon XI (1857-1934) as the circular mon with two bars at the top left was traditionally the mon of the Kataoka family which goes back to the 18th.century and continues today. We have not been able to identify the "crane" mon which was probably one of the actor's subsidiary mon.
Kitaoka was known for playing a variety of roles, in the present design he is acting as an onnagata (player of female roles) hence the wig behind the actor.
The print is advertising a beauty lotion which the actor is pouring into his hand from a bottle. Just as in Victorian Britain, Meiji Japan was the great age of patent medicines, lotions and nostrums. The print is in very good unfaded condition with no damage and no repairs. There is a horizontal fold across the metallic printed mon at the top. It is unlikely that such a print would have been printed in large quantities, the production costs would have been expensive. Consequently essentially ephemeral prints of this nature are rare survivors and rarely appear on the market. For a fascinating account of the commercial aspects of Ukiyoe see Rebecca Salter's excellent book, Japanese Popular Prints.
Unfortunately we have been unable to read the artist's name, even with the help of a Japanese friend. The top kanji on the left of the signature is Hiro, as in Hiroshige, but the lower part is in hiragana which has many variations in the old use of the script.
Please note this is an original printing NOT a facsimile or reprint.