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Kunichika Toyohara: Kabuki scene with three samurais

Japan, Meiji period, 1879


Colour woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink an colour on paper. Vertical oban triptych, 35 x 72,5 cm. Very good colours, fine condition; print has folds by each oban as well as the side edges.


The print depicts actors Ichikawa Kodanji V as Urai Sagenta, Ichikawa Danjûrô IX as Taga Dairyô, and Onoe Kikugorô V as Ôtsuki Hanabito from a kabuki play, 1879 October 20.


At the time Kunichika Toyohara (1835–1900) began his serious studies the late Edo period, an extension of traditions based on a feudal society, was about to end. The "modern" Meiji era (1868–1912), a time of rapid modernization, industrialization, and extensive contact with the West, was in stark contrast to what had come before. Ukiyo-e artists had traditionally illustrated urban life and society – especially the theater, for which their prints often served as advertising. The Meiji period brought competition from the new technologies of photography and photoengraving, effectively destroying the careers of most. As Kunichika matured his reputation as a master of design and of drama grew steadily. In guides rating ukiyo-e artists his name appeared in the top ten in 1865, 1867, and 1885, when he was in eighth, fifth, and fourth place, respectively. In 1867, one year before the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate, he received an official commission by the government to contribute ten pictures to the 1867 World Exhibition in Paris. He also had a print at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago.

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