Ichikawa Sadanji I as Fukashichi the Fishmonger (1883)

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About the Art

In sweeping deep red make-up, an indication of his anger and forcefulness, the actor is caught in a moment of intense determination and swathed in a beautifully intricate dragon kimono. This image is taken from Toyohara Kunichika’s series of prints, "Mirror of Actors in Tales of Modern History", and is a fine example of ōkubi-e; "Big Head Pictures".

The image depicts Kabuki actor Ichikawa Sadanji in the play ‘‘Exemplary Tales for Women”. His role is of fisherman Fukashichi, who is actually a disguise forKanawa no Gorō. Kanawa no Gorō arrives in his disguise to the castle of the evil sorcerer Iruka in an effort to defeat him. However, Iruka is protected by a spell that can only be broken by the music from a flute that has been dipped in the blood of a black-hoofed deer and an extremely jealous woman. Kanawa no Gorō leaves the castle and runs into Omiwa, who happens to be in a fit of jealous rage. He stabs her, drives a flute into her wound, and mixes it with the blood of a deer in order to break the spell and defeat Iruka.

An artist on the cusp of a new era, Toyohara Kunichika began in the late Edo period and became one of the great masters of the Meiji period. Kunichika’s prints are recognised for their astounding use of colour, specifically the strong reds and purples, which would’ve been achieved using aniline dyes imported from Germany in the Meiji period. In typical master-apprentice style, Kunichika’s name is taken from his two teachers - the masters of ukiyo-e - Kunisada and Chikanobu.

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