Actor Matsumoto Koshiro VII as Sukeroku
with white mica background; signed at right Toyonari ga, with circular date seal, Tai kyu (Taisho 9 ), archaic seal Mori at lower left corner, self-published with the support of the Yamamura Koka Hanga Kankokai (Publication Society of Yamamura Koka's prints), 1920
dai oban tate-e 16 1/8 by 11 5/8 in., 41 by 29.5 cm
The actor Matsumoto Koshiro VII (1870-1949) is in the role of Hanakawa Sukeroku, an otokodate (chivalrous commoner) from the play Sukeroku yukari no Edo zakura (Sukeroku, the flower of Edo). Although set in the Yoshiwara, the trials of Sukeroku are modeled after the story of one of the Soga brothers (Soga no Goro) a popular theme revisited in numerous kabuki interpretations. The play Sukeroku is one of the Kabuki Juhachiban ('Eighteen Kabuki Plays') compiled by Ichikawa Danjuro VII in 1840 as favorites for the family repertoire. The Sukeroku role is identified by the lavender or purple towel tied around his head, which symbolizes his love-sickness for the beautiful courtesan Agemaki. The flower (probably peony) crest on the dark kimono is also typical for the role.
Matsumoto Koshiro VII was extensively recognized as the greatest kabuki star of his generation. From the age of eleven, he was trained by Ichikawa Danjuro IX, one of the most important kabuki actors of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) who is credited, in part, with revitalizing and redefining the theater for the modern era. Ichikawa Danjuro IX recognized Koshiro VII's potential during his first performance in the drama Moritsuna Jinya as the character Koshiro in 1881. He soon became an acclaimed actor and in 1911 he joined the newly established Imperial Theater, then the Schochiku Theater in 1929. One of his sons became Ichikawa Danjuro XI (1909-1965).
The artist Yamamura Koka was particularly well-suited for the subject of actor prints as he was himself an enthusiast of the theatrical arts of the time. Koka collected ukiyo-e prints and in 1919 he published Shibai nishiki-e shusei (Compendium of Theatrical Woodblock Prints). He understood the significance of the plays and the histories and talents of the various actors. Koka's first full-sized actor print was published by Watanabe Shozaburo (1885-1962) in 1916, followed by three more between 1917 and 1919. Contrary to popular belief, the Twelve Actor Prints (Juni yakusha-e) and the Flowers of the Theatrical World (Rien no hana) series were not published by Watanabe but by the Yamamura Koka Hanga Kankokai (Publication Society of Yamamura Koka's Prints), a group of supporters comprised primarily of collectors.
Andreas Marks, Seven Masters: 20th Century Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Wells Collection, Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2015, p. 64 (large detail), p. 74, no.30
Koyama Shuko, Beautiful Shin Hanga- Revitalization of Ukiyo-e, Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum, 2009, p. 73, no. 2-40
(inv. no. 10-5033)
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