Details — Click to read
signed Kunichika hitsu with red Toshidama seal, publisher’s seal (partially trimmed) Tsunoi (Tsunokuniya Isaburo), ca. 1868-69
oban tate-e 14 1/2 by 9 5/8 in., 36.8 by 24.3 cm
With the opening of the port of Yokohama to foreign ships in 1859, Western goods and materials which previously had been exotic, expensive, and quite often nearly unobtainable, were suddenly readily available and reasonably acquired. The modern looking glass, although far more easily broken than a heavy bronze disc, offered a more practical and realistic reflection of the viewer, and as such, very quickly replaced traditional polished bronze Japanese mirrors. Kunichika alludes to this new realism in this rare series by presenting true portraits of the actors, not as we see them, but as they see themselves in their own looking glass. In this example, Kunichika captures an intense moment in the reflection of Bando Shinsui V (Hikosaburo V, 1832-1877), with a copy of his libretto resting against his shoulder. The poem in the lobed-flower cartouche is signed with his poetry name, Shinsui. Hikosaburo V was one of the most talented kabuki actors of the mid to late 19th century, his virtuosity in portraying a wide range of roles was much like his contemporary and greatest rival, Nakamura Shikan IV (1831-99).
Amy Reigle Newland, Time Present and Time Past: Images of a Forgotten Master: Toyohara Kunichika, 1999, p. 91, cat. no. 61 (for another print from this scarce series)
Tokyo Metropolitan Library, acquisition no. 577-C003-02
Waseda University Theatre Museum, acquisition no. 007-2268