Utagawa Kunimasa, 1773-1810
Ichikawa Yaozo III as a Bandit, Actually Mita no Jiro Tomotsuna
signed Kunimasa ga, with censor's seal kiwame (approved), publisher seal Yama-Zen (Tamariya Zenbei), ca. 1796, 11th lunar month
oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 10 in., 37.7 by 25.5 cm
Born in Aizu, Kunimasa initially worked at a dye factory upon his arrival in Edo before his interest in kabuki led him to find a place in the studio of Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825). The two artists were only four years apart in age and Kunimasa may have been Toyokuni's first student. Although Kunimasa was a late bloomer by ukiyo-e standards - his first work appears in late 1795 when he was 22 years old - he quickly made up for lost time and produced exceptional single-sheet prints of beauties that rivaled Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) and actor portraits that rivaled those of his master as well as the enigmatic Toshusai Sharaku (fl. ca. 1794-95). In 1796 Kunimasa designed two untitled actor okubi-e ('big head') series, one for the publisher Uemura Yohei, the other for Tamariya Zenbei, which includes this print.
This intense okubi-e portrait of Ichikawa Yaozo III (Suketakaya Takasuke II, 1747-1818) can be viewed as the right sheet of a triptych of three bold okubi-e of actors portraying leading roles from the play Second Generation of the Seiwa and a Genji Party (Seiwa nidai oyose Genji) which was staged at the Miyako-za theater in the 11th lunar month of 1796. Yaozo is depicted as a yamagatsu (lumberjack), who is actually the warrior Mita no Jiro Tomotsuna in disguise. The role was based on an historical person who was a retainer of the famous commander Minamoto Yorimitsu (948-1021). In the play, Jiro embarks on a quest to find powerful and fearless warriors and comes upon the robust red-colored superhuman man-child, Kaidomaru (also known as Kintaro, or 'Golden Boy' or Kintoki as an adult), who had been raised by the wild (and possibly evil) Yamauba, the hag of Mount Ashigara. Both roles are the subject of the other two prints in this triad, portrayed by the actors Iwai Hanshiro IV (1747-1800) and Nakamura Noshio II (1759-1800), respectively forming the center and left sheets of the triptych.
Kunimasa died at the young age of only 37 with approximately 125 recorded designs with few impressions extant. Of the four known examples of this print, this is the only one currently in private hands.
Julia Meech & Jane Oliver, Designed for Pleasure: The World of Edo Japan in Prints and Paintings, 1680-1860, Asia Society and Japanese Art Society of America, 2008, p. 212, cat. no. 56 (private collection)
Andreas Marks, Japanese Woodblock Prints, 2019, pp. 253-255, no. 79
Shoriya Aragoro, kabuki 21
Matthi Forrer, The Baur Collection: Japanese Prints, 1994, no. G133
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 9, 1981, list 1.030 (MFA Boston)
Andreas Marks, Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publishers and Masterworks (1680-1900), 2010, p. 108 (on Kunimasa)
The Baur Collection, Geneva, no. B 95
Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge, accession no. 1933.4.522
Museum of Fine Arts Boston, ex William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, accession no. 11.16211
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