Toyohara Kunichika Sawamura Tanosuke III

Toyohara Kunichika, 1835-1900

The Mirror of Backstage in Full Bloom: Sawamura Tanosuke III
(Hanazakari gakuya no sugatami: Sawamura Tanosuke)

signed Kunichika ga with artist's Toshidama seal, publisher's seal Bun, Tsujibun han, Yokoyamacho Sanchome (Tsujiokaya Bunsuke of Kinshodo), censor's seal Ushi-roku, aratame (year of the Ox [1865], 6th month, examined), 1865

oban tate-e 14 3/8 by 9 5/8 in., 36.6 by 24.6 cm

A view of the reflection of the kabuki actor Sawamura Tanosuke III (1845-78) in his traditional Japanese mirror propped at an angle in a backstage dressing room. The cloths draped around the edges of the black and gold lacquer frame were necessary to avoid marring the surface of metal when handling the mirror. In the background the thin banner on the wall has his name ...Tanosuke (the 'Mura' kanj cropped off). The larger banner to the left shows the bottom half of 'Mura' again, and his poetry name, Shozan.

Even without showing the exposed shaved pate behind Tanosuke's forelock indicating that he is an onnagata, his lively eyes and sweet expression are clearly well-suited for female roles. Indeed, Tanosuke was so reknown and beloved for his talent at embodying feminine characteristics, that when tragedy struck in 1865 and both of his feet were amputated due to the onset of gangrene after an injury, he nevertheless continued to perform with the assistance of stage hands.

References:
Amy Reigle Newland, Time Present and Time Past: Images of a Forgotten Master: Toyohara Kunichika, 1999, p. 79, cat. no. 45 (for another print in this series)
Waseda University Theatre Museum, acquisition no. 007-263

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