Utagawa Kunisada (also known as Toyokuni III, 1786 – 1865) was the most popular, prolific and successful designer of ukiyo-e woodblock prints in 19th-century Japan. At the end of the Edo Period (1603–1867), Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) also counted among the best representatives of the Japanese color woodcut in Edo (the then capital city of Japan). Both artists attended the prestigious Utagawa school, founded by Toyoharu.
This album has a beautiful original cloth and uses the concertina binding, an ancient binding method that sits somewhere between a modern sewn book and an ancient scroll. In it are 40 hand-coloured ukiyo-e, all working as diptychs. All the prints are very lively coloured and depict with a great degree of detail and fineness various scenes from kabuki plays. A classical Japanese dance-drama sometimes translated as “the art of singing and dancing”, Kabuki theatre was known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers. Since the word kabuki is believed to derive from the verb kabuku, meaning “to lean” or “to be out of the ordinary”, kabuki can be interpreted as “avant-garde” or “bizarre” theatre.
More precisely, Ukiyo-e, or ukiyo-ye (in Japanese: “pictures of the floating world”), is a genre of woodblock prints and paintings that flourished in Japan from the 17th through 19th centuries. It was aimed at the prosperous merchant class in the urbanizing Edo period. Amongst the popular themes were depictions of beautiful women, kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers, scenes from history and folk tales, travel scenes and landscapes, flora and fauna, and erotica.
To create a woodblock print, artists first designed the image on paper and then transferred it to a thin, partly transparent paper. Following the lines on the paper, now pasted to a wooden block usually of cherry wood, the carver used to chisel and cut to create the original in negative—with the lines and areas to be coloured raised in relief. Ink was then applied to the surface of the woodblock. Rubbing a round pad over the back of a piece of paper laid over the top of the inked board eventually made the print.
Artists like Kunisada and Kuniyoshi were able to produce such bright and colourful prints thanks to technological progress. Indeed, in 1765, new technology had made it possible to produce single-sheet prints in a whole range of colours. Polychrome prints were made using a separate carved block for each color, which could number up to twenty. To print with precision using numerous blocks on a single paper sheet, a system of placing two cuts on the edge of each block to serve as alignment guides was employed. Paper made from the inner bark of mulberry trees was favored, as it was strong enough to withstand numerous rubbings on the various woodblocks and sufficiently absorbent to take up the ink and pigments. Reproductions, sometimes numbering in the thousands, could be made until the carvings on the woodblocks became worn.
The present set of prints follows the oban format, which is the most common print size. It corresponds to half a large hosho sheet, in other words about 24×37 cm. The word “tate-e” refers to the alignment of the print; in this case, a vertically aligned print.
Kunisada (1786-1865) and Kuniyoshi (1797-1861). 40 oban tate-e representing portraits of kabuki actors. Original Japanese tanned cloth. Concertina binding.
Ex libris “André Varaldi”.
Stock ID: 91562