Japanese Prints of Actors – A Brief History Part 4: 1794-1825

In the previous part we witnessed the early development of full colour printing, most likely a private business to begin with, as well as the standardization of print formats by the upcoming commercial publishers – resulting in a standardization of both printing blocks and paper sheets – so as to make these prints at last into a viable commercial business. Essentially this also meant finding cheaper and simpler kinds of paper that wouldn’t require so much dampness as the luxurious soft and thick hōsho paper from Echizen Province, Echizenbōsho 越前奉書, so as to more easily absorb the pigments, as well as enabling a much more efficient printing process as the printed sheets would also dry more quickly.

Utagawa Toyokuni: The actor Nakamura Nakazō II as Matsuōmaru, after a performance at the Miyako Theatre, VII/1796 (KN 5:216). Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (JP1004)

The period of 1794 to 1825 for this instalment may seem to be chosen somewhat haphazardly. Yet it corresponds exactly with the period when Utagawa Toyokuni 1769-1825 歌川豊國 was active in the genre of prints of actors, also including the work of his early pupils, such as Kunimasa 國政, Kunihisa 國久, Kuninaga 國長, and many others. We should also realize that Toyokuni was one of only two artists who managed to survive and overcome the changes in the world of prints in the 1790s, adapting without any problem to what a new audience expected. Thanks to both the flowering economy and the circumstance that prints could now be offered at much more modest prices as a result of the much more efficient production process – as we saw above – the commercial publishers managed to address a much wider audience. And Toyokuni understood very well that he was then catering to an audience that was very different from the kabuki aficionados for whom the Katsukawa 勝川 had worked from 1764 and he himself as well from 1794. From 1798 onwards, it again became customary to inscribe the names of the actors and the roles they played on the print – as had been the practice in the period of urushie 漆絵 and benizurie 紅摺絵 prints – thus assisting the many buyers who had maybe not even seen the play, or didn’t really know the plot, or even wouldn’t be able to identify the actor from his crest – indeed, a very very different audience from the members of the fan clubs of actors who bought the prints made by the Katsukawa artists. (The other artist who managed to survive the change of the audience from the late 18th century into the 19th century was Hokusai 北斎, who always kept reinventing himself and addressing new audiences. Kiyonaga 清長 was sort of happily retired, and Utamaro 歌麿 failed to adapt and simply had to give up printmaking, and Eishi 栄之, being of samurai descent, would focus on painting rather than designing popular prints.)

Utagawa Toyokuni: The actor Sawamura Sōjūrō III in the role of Ōkishi Kurando, V/1794 at the Miyakoza. From the series Yakusha butai no sugatae. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York JP 1531

We know of a Toyokuni print portraying the actor Nakamura Nakazō as Ishikawa Goemon 中村仲蔵の石川五右衛門 after a performance in XI/1788 (listed in Fujisawa Akane, Utagawaha no ukiyoe to Edo shuppankai. Tokyo: Bensei shuppan, 2001, 322 [藤澤茜『歌川派の浮世絵と江戸出版界』東京:勉誠出版2001] and KN 5:69), but his real debut as a designer of actor prints was his series of Portraits of Actors on Stage, Yakusha butai no sugatae 役者舞台之姿繪 – you see, sugatae 姿繪, not yakushae 役者絵 — issued from 1794 by Izumiya Ichibei 和泉屋市兵衛, 52 designs known and an immediate success. Toyokuni’s first four prints in the series, one after a performance in the first month of 1794, two after a performance in the second month, and one after a performance in the third month, could well have been the talk of the town as they were released. And, as Roger Keyes suggested, this might have triggered Tsutaya Jūsaburō 蔦屋重三郎 to come with his reaction, in the form of his embracing the totally unknown artist going by the name of Sharaku 冩楽. Anyway, although we weren’t around then, it is certainly not impossible. On the other hand, it is quite obvious that this series of prints inspired Katsukawa Shunei 勝川春英 to design nineteen full length portrayals of actors against a soft grey ground after performances of the Chūshingura 忠臣蔵 drama at the Miyako Theatre 都座 in the fourth month of 1795 (KN 5:192, also see The actor’s image, 132).

As for the formats of Toyokuni’s prints when he was obliged to cater to the new audience of print buyers, there is a number of hosoban 細判 designs in the late 1790s and the early 1800s, but it is even more interesting to see a number of ōban diptych 大判二枚続 compositions from 1804, and a first ōban triptych 大判三枚続 in 1808. And this was only the beginning: from about 1815, the majority of Toyokuni’s prints of actors are ōban diptych and triptych compositions, and from the 1820s single prints are definitely a minority — this on the basis of Fujisawa Akane who records 810 prints of actors by Toyokuni and many more by other members of the Utagawa tradition. This also reflects the economic flowering of the Kasei 化政 period, as the Bunka-Bunsei Period (1804-30) is also known.

What we also see is that most of these diptychs and triptychs and occasional tetraptychs and pentaptych composition are largely preserved complete: the print buying audience was no longer comprised of members of the fan clubs who just wanted that one sheet where his or her favourite actor was portrayed. And probably the group of commercial publishers that then controlled the market wouldn’t have allowed such, now that the price of a complete triptych was probably less than one sheet of any Katsukawa polyptych at the time. Let’s now have a look whether the first and following positions are still similar to what we saw with the Katsukawa.

1697 1760tane urushie42% 9%   5%   29%563 99.5%
1742 1769benizurie27%9%9% 5% 6%   35%854 100%
1764 1796                         Katsukawa Bunchō Sharaku17%6%6% 7% 9%6%  40%794 99.5%
1794 1825Utagawa Toyokuni and pupils14% 18%5%10% 13%6%12% 13%1284 98.5%
Utagawa Toyokuni: The actors Ichikawa Komazō II as Akaneya Hanshichi and Nakayama Tomisaburō as Minoya Sankatsu, III/1798 at the Nakamuraza (KN 5:250). Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York JP1387

No, this is now a very different story. What happened? First, second, third, and fourth positions were then taken by the months XI, I, VII, V, and II/III/VIII together, and now, in the years from 1794-1825, we are looking at III, I, VII/XI, IX, V, VIII and IV instead. New are IV with 5% and IX with 12%. So the prominent position of the first and eleventh months that took 71, 62, and 57% of the annual production respectively, is down well below the 50% mark, now accounting for a mere 27%. The relative popularity of the second month in the two previous periods was apparently to be short-lived. But in this period there are only three months, the second, sixth, and tenth, that fail to reach the 5% limit. Moreover, with no real difference between the 14 and 13% for the first and eleventh months, we cannot any longer speak of some clear preference.

Utagawa Toyokuni: The actor Ichikawa Komazō III as Kameō and Iwai Kumesaburō as Oyasu in a performance at the Nakamura Theatre in III/1800 (KN 5:280) Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York JP1119

Anyway, this means that prints of actors are from now really a commodity for all seasons. And this quite an accomplishment, realized in a period of some three decades – of admittedly a great economic prospering – for which both Toyokuni and the commercial publishers deserve all the credit. Toyokuni also quite generously gave his pupils a fair chance to make their way in the field, Kunimasa 國政 from 1795, by his contemporaries jokingly said to be rather the teacher than the pupil of Toyokuni, Kunihisa 國久 from 1804, Kuninaga 國長 from 1804, Kuniyasu 國安 from 1808, Kuninao 國直 from 1810, Kunisada 國貞, probably his greatest student and the most successful artists of the nineteenth century, from 1811 (represented by 265 prints of actors in this period), Kuniyoshi 國芳 from 1815, Kunikane 國兼 from 1823, and, always somewhat mysteriously, Toyokuni II 二代豊國 only from 1823, two years before Toyokuni’s death.

Coming back to my earlier remarks on the formats of prints of actors in this period, more specifically the development of an increasing number of diptych and triptych compositions, these are quite different from what we saw with the Katsukawa artists in the latter decades of the eighteenth century. Rather than representing actors on stage against a typical theatre décor, the actors in Toyokuni’s prints are more and more portrayed in some imaginary scenery rather in tune with the plot of the play, giving rise to often quite dramatic scenes that naturally appealed to the audience of the time, but could never be realized just using the common décor and stage props. This will undoubtedly have contributed considerably to the popularity of these prints. But we should also realize that we are here far from ‘actor prints,’ certainly when you would like to call them yakushae, these are in fact ‘kabuki prints,’ prints after kabuki performances in the theatres of Edo. Indeed, for true prints of actors, one would, interestingly, have to go to the Kamigata where this genre of prints survived easily until about 1830.

Anyway, Toyokuni also ensured that the field of prints of actors would from his days belong to the Utagawa tradition, and to the Utagawa tradition alone, Utagawa Kunichika 國周 probably being the last and certainly a most gifted and innovative artist. But how exactly they fared, we’ll see in the next part.

Japanese Prints of Actors – A Brief History Part 3B: still the years 1764-1796

With the exception of a small number of prints dating from around 1770, and then again from about 1790, most prints of both Bunchō and the Katsukawa do not feature any marks of publishers. Would this suggest that most of these prints were in fact somewhat like private publications, not available through commercial publishers, and rather directly distributed by the fan clubs of the kabuki actors? This might well have been a common practice in the early years of nishikie colour prints. As for Bunchō (see the previous issue, Part 3A for the reference), we can only identify some 52 designs out of a total of 395 being issued with some publisher’s mark, dating from 1769 (7 prints), 1770 (13), 1771 (6), 1772 (5), and 1773 (1). This is also what we see with Harunobu’s prints, where we can only find some 101 prints with a publisher’s mark out of a total of 843 known prints (mostly in his prints in the mizue 水絵 and benizuri printing technique, and only 11 among his 720 nishikie colour prints), whereas, by decree, publishers’ marks were obligatory from XI/1720 for both prints and books issued commercially. It is then tempting to conclude that most prints in the new technique, at least in the initial years, were not distributed commercially, but rather among members of private clubs, such as people around the hatamoto Ōkubo Tadanobu aka Kyosen 1722-1777, 旗本大久保忠舒巨川 in the case of Harunobu, and members of fan clubs of kabuki actors in the cases of Bunchō and Shunshō and his Katsukawa-workshop colleagues. It is probably also no coincidence that we begin to see the first colour printed books issued by commercial publishers around the same time, from 1770.

But maybe we should also have a look at the days of benizurie and see which role commercial publishers were playing then. It then appears that only 11.5% of benizurie, that is 103 out of a total of 1205 prints, was issued without any mark of a publisher. This might well confirm that the absence of publishers’ marks on most early nishikie indicates that we are, indeed, looking at some kind of private publication, at least some print that was being distributed privately. On the other hand, how exactly this worked is difficult to say. There must have been someone acting as a producer, who organized the cutting of the blocks, provided the paper needed, and eventually oversaw the printing, as we also see this with surimono prints, e.g. Kubo Shunman 窪俊満 in Edo and Tani Seikō 谷清好 in Osaka. Most likely these were established publishers who should well be able to handle all this, but couldn’t act as their publisher as it were the clubs who commissioned these and were paying the costs and were consequently in charge of the distribution as well. Thus, these prints were made by subscription, like, for example, upon an announcement that Katsukawa Shunkō would make a triptych composition after this and this play that was just staged yesterday at this and this theatre?

According to Arihara Kogan 1829-1922 在原古玩, Harunobu’s chūban prints cost 160 mon 文 at the time, whereas prints by other artists in the hosoban format cost 12 mon and ōban prints 24 mon (cited after Tanabe Masako 田辺昌子 in the Harunobu exhibition catalogue, Chiba City Museum of Art, 2002, 275 and 307). This may seem interesting, but on the other hand, it is also a little puzzling. How could one chūban print by Harunobu cost the equivalent of more than six and a half ōban prints by any other artist – and I always learned that format is a factor, and six and a half ōban prints equal thirteen chūban sheets, that is the printing blocks, the cutting of the line and colour blocks, and the printers working a number of days, and the paper also makes for a good part of the price, as do the pigments… It is also not very clear what exactly the source of Arihara’s statements is (though I must still try to locate a copy of his article). So I prefer to forget about this, it simply makes no sense (to me, at least).

Assuming that also the hosoban and ōban prints are full colour nishikie, we must realize that from 1772 a new set of standard formats of paper was introduced, as a necessary standardization that would enable the badly needed commercial production of colour prints, yes, indeed, commercial distribution, no longer just catering to only private subscribers. As a consequence, the traditional ōbirobōsho 大広奉書 sheet measuring 44 x 58 cms and yielding a chūban sheet of 290 x 220 mms, as we can find in the Art Institute of Chicago’s circa 1766 Zashiki hakkei 座敷八景 series of 289 x 218 mms, was replaced by ōbōsho 大奉書 sheets measuring 39 x 53 cms and yielding a chūban sheet of 265 x 195 mms that we find in Bunchō’s post 1772 chūban designs, and most other chūban designs, for that matter. And from then, a standard ōban print measures 390 x 265 mms. And the benizurie hosoban measuring 330 x 153, as one third of a Mino sheet of 330 x 460 would from then measure 330 x 156, exactly the third of a kobōsho sheet 小奉書, which, alas, hardly helps us date these hosoban prints on the basis of their measurements. Once this standardization is a fact, print production is gradually getting in the hands of commercial publishers, as we can see in the works of Isoda Koryūsai, Torii Kiyonaga, and Kitagawa Utamaro. And towards the late 1780s, when cultural life in Edo is more and more under close scrutiny of the government, leading to the Kansei Reforms concerning publishing of V/1790, even the Katsukawa artists have to give up their private business of exclusive catering to the kabuki fan clubs. From then, we only see privately distributed prints in the form of picture calenders, egoyomi 絵暦, mostly in the 1780s and 1790s, and kyōka surimono 狂歌摺物 from the 1790s on.

Katsukawa Shunei: The actor Bandō Hikosaburō III in the role of Sugawara no Michizane, probably V/1799, ōban format, publisher Uemura Yohei, KN 5:270 (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, JP2824)

The Katsukawa artists, as well as Bunchō and Sharaku, also worked in other formats than just hosoban. Both Bunchō and Shunshō, Shunkō 春好 act 1772-99 (?) and Shunei 春英 act 1783-1808 (?) designed quite a few works in the chūban format, and as the aiban 330 x 235 mm format came into use, the Katsukawa artists also used this format quite regularly as an intermediate format in between the ōban and chūban sheets. Shunshō’s use of the ōban format probably only dates from the early 1780s, in a series of prints portraying actors back-stage and a number of prints of sumō wrestlers. Moreover, as is well-known, Sharaku made his first appearance in the world of prints with a group of no less than 28 ōban prints with a mica ground portraying actors after performances in the fifth month of 1794, a feat unmatched by anyone else either before or after him. These so-called ōkubie 大首絵 or ‘large head’ portraits were probably an innovation that must be attributed to Katsukawa Shunkō, as we can learn from the comments in Kabuki nenpyō in the first month of 1789, stating that ‘for the fame of Tamejūrō, the kyōka poetry clubs of Edo had Katsukawa Shunkō make portraits of Tosshi [Sawamura Sōjūrō III], Okuyama [Asao Tamejūrō], Rokō [Segawa Kikunojō III], Tojaku [Iwai Hanshirō IV], and Mimasu [Ichikawa Danjūrō V], and distributed 500 of these,’ privately that is 為十郎大評判にて江戸狂歌連中より訥子奥山路考杜若三升五人の似顔を勝川春好に描かせ摺物五百枚を贈る (KN 5:81). And may we then conclude that an edition of 500 was really exceptional and that maybe something like 300 or 350 was more like common practice? Or could it be, as my friend and loyal reader Paul Belien suggested, that each of the designs was printed in an edition of one hundred and we thus get to the figure of five hundred for the five prints. Indeed, raising the question again how costly these prints were. And, of course, these ōban prints cost much more than a standard hosoban sheet. Still, the designers, block-cutters and printers all had to be paid, plus the printing blocks, the paper and the pigments, so there must have been a break even point somewhere. Anyway, I have never believed that skipping one bowl of noodles would allow one to buy another woodblock print fairy-tale.

Katsukawa Shunshō: The actors Sawamura Sōjūrō to the right, and Nakayama Kojūrō VI, XI/1785 KN 5:10 (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, JP171)

But let us now again have a look at the prints of actors in role designed by Buncho, the Katsukawa workshop, and Sharaku:

1697 1760tane urushie42% 9%   5%   29%563 99.5%
1742 1769benizurie27%9%9% 5% 6%   35%854 100%
1764 1796                         Katsukawa Bunchō Sharaku17%6%6% 7% 9%6%  40%794 99.5%
Katsukawa Shunei: The actor Ichikawa Monnosuke II in the role of Sukeroku, IV/1791, publisher Harimaya Shinshichi, KN 5:115 (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, JP2707)

As we already saw in Part 3A, the print buying audience keeps losing interest in prints after the New Year performances. Could it be that New Year’s egoyomi and surimono and the new novels of various kinds released in the first month were attracting more attention and that this made that prints after the New Year performances now make up for only 17% of the annual production, versus 40% for prints after the kaomise 顔見 performances marking the opening of the kabuki season. The interest for prints after the second and third months drops, the fifth month is on the rise, and new is prints after performances in the eighth month. In summary, the buying public is still moving, or is it the commercial publishers who cause these shifts, trying to reach a wider audience than just members of the fan clubs of specific actors?

Otherwise, looking a bit around at other developments, it is quite remarkable that most Katsukawa artists hardly lent themselves to illustrations of popular novels, with the exception of Shunjō (春常 13 in the years 1778-92), Shunrō 春郎, the later Hokusai (34 novels in the years 1780-97), and Shunei (33 in the years 1782-94). Shunshō, the head of the atelier, made the illustrations to only six popular novels and designed 17 picture books and 19 albums of erotic content, indeed making him an artist of the ‘old’ tradition. Otherwise he seems to have been in very strict control, only Shunchō 勝川春潮, who almost did no prints of actors, was allowed to do the illustrations of seven popular novels, in addition to making three picture books and 14 erotic works in the years 1783-98.

The actor Ichikawa Danjūrō V in the role of Kudō Suketsune, c.1800, a role he played every first month in the years 1778-1781 (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, JP3058)

The Katsukawa tradition, and certainly the branch devoted to the theatrical world, died out soon after the decease of Katsukawa Shunshō in Kansei 4, eighth day of the twelfth month 寛政四年十二月八日, that is 19/1/1793. His favourite pupil Shunkō suffered from a stroke that paralyzed his right arm in 1791 and stopped designing prints, after some training concentrating on painting instead. And his second choice, Shunei, also gave up soon as they lost their traditional audience to the upcoming Utagawa tradition of prints of actors, led by Utagawa Toyokuni 歌川豊國 act 1787-1825 and Utagawa Kunimasa 歌川國政 act 1795-1804, the subject of the next instalment. And, indeed, why not Shunrō, whom Shunshō always put in a far corner of his atelier, just allowing him to make the cheapest possible actor prints so that the Katsukawa atelier would also cater to a different audience and have some extra income – the later Hokusai I mean, who then left the Katsukawa workshop to establish a fully independent tradition by himself, but not in the world of actors.

Japanese Prints of Actors – A Brief History Part 3A: 1764-1796

In Part 2 of this Brief History, there was already mention of some major innovation, the development of full colour printing from 1764, giving rise to what we know as nishikie 錦絵, justly advertised as ‘Brocade Prints from the Eastern Capital,’ Edo that is, Azuma nishikie 東錦絵. These would gradually supersede the traditional benizurie 紅摺絵 that had been predominant in printmaking for the two preceding decades.

In the literature, the earliest nishikie are generally associated with Suzuki Harunobu 鈴木春信 act 1760-70. This is only based on the circumstance that, and don’t ask me why, Harunobu got involved in the sudden temporary craze of distributing picture calenders, egoyomi 絵暦, among one’s friends for the New Year, starting in Meiwa 2 明和二年, 1765, and already much less in Meiwa 3 明和三年, 1766. Indeed, why not Torii Kiyomitsu 鳥居清満 act 1745-77 or Torii Kiyotsune 鳥居清経 act 1757-78, both with a much more impressive record of production? Or even more to be expected, Ishikawa Toyonobu 石川豊信 act 1746-79. Anyway, we see the first use of the new printing technique with Katsukawa Shunshō 勝川春章 act 1764-93 as well as with some amateur designers of prints. And as for prints of actors, Harunobu wisely soon left the field to Shunshō.

The actor Ichikawa Yaozō II as Soga no Gorō in a performance at the Nakamura Theatre in II/1770 (Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
The actor Ichikawa Monnosuke II as Soga no Jūrō in a performance at the Kiri Theatre in I/1785, KN 5:4 (Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

A major innovation of Shunshō and his Katsukawa workshop was that he established close connections with the various fan clubs of kabuki actors. So they soon started designing narrow upright hosoban prints in triptych or pentaptych compositions, catering to the various fan clubs. However, as most kabuki aficionados apparently only bought the sheets portraying their favourite actor, it is now almost impossible to find such complete triptych or pentaptych compositions in either private or public collections. Checking the ukiyo-e.org site, for example, I only found among a total of 3675 hosoban sheets one hexaptych composition, seven pentaptych compositions and eight tetraptych compositions, and 74 triptych compositions (6%) as well as 175 diptychs (9.5%) – where we may sometimes also ask ourselves if these were complete compositions or just parts of triptychs and pentaptychs. Anyway, this means that we are left with almost 85% of single prints that were mostly picked by the kabuki fans out of their original multi-sheet compositions.

We must also realize that another major innovation of the Katsukawa artists consisted in rendering a direct and vivid interaction between the actors in triptych and pentaptych compositions, an aspect that alas goes forlorn when these are reduced to incomplete single print images. Of course, there is also a number of prints that was conceived as single sheet compositions from the beginning, but they really seem to have been a minority. One easy way to identify prints from multi-sheet compositions is when there is a simple décor or stage setting running to both the right and left edges — as in all pics seen here, and all by Katsukawa Shunshō — that we can almost always see from about 1770, although its absence is still no guarantee that we are looking at a single print composition. Anyway, we can well conclude that the kabuki lovers in these days demanded much more than just one or two prints after performances in the first and the eleventh months, as had largely been the case in the preceding decades. Indeed, from the 1760s we are gradually getting closer to the Floating World 浮世 where kabuki 歌舞伎 thrives, as do guides to the Yoshiwara 新吉原 pleasure quarter, illustrated popular novels 草双紙, collections of kyōka 狂歌集 poems, and the print culture.

Kabuki Actor Ichikawa Danjūrō V as Sakata Kintoki in the Play Raikō’s Four Intrepid Retainers in the Costume of the Night Watch (Shitennō tonoi no kisewata), Katsukawa Shunshō 勝川春章 (Japanese, 1726–1792), Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper, Japan
The actor Ichikawa Danjūrō V as Sakata Kintoki in a performance at the Nakamura Theatre in XI/1781, KN 4: 455 (Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

My original count was based on The actor’s image. Print makers of the Katsukawa school. The Art Institute of Chicago, 1994. But then I realized that it would be good to also include both Ippitsusai Bunchō 一筆斎文調 act 1764-79 and Tōshūsai Sharaku 東洲斎写楽 act 1794-95 in the count. Bunchō is a direct contemporary of Shunshō and worked for a quite similar audience, and both collaborated on the Picture Book of Fans on the Stage, Ehon butai ōgi 『繪本舞台扇』of I/1770, probably the first colour-printed book, published by Kariganeya Ihei 雁金屋伊兵衛. As for Sharaku, his production of prints, certainly his compositions in the hosoban format, is much more similar to the Katsukawa tradition than to the Utagawa tradition, the focus of Part 4. That this was quite correct can be inferred from the fact that percentagewise, this hardly affected the outcome based on my earlier count of the Katsukawa artists alone, just a difference of one or two percents in only a few cases. For Bunchō, I used ‘Ippitsusai Bunchō hanga sakuhin mokuroku’ by Hayashi Kyōhei 林京平、一筆斎文調版画作品目録 in the Ukiyoe shūka volumes 浮世絵衆花, and for Sharaku the 2011 Tokyo National Museum exhibition catalogue 東博展.

1697 1760tane urushie42% 9%   5%   29%563 99.5%
1742 1769benizurie27%9%9% 5% 6%   35%854 100%
1764 1796                         Katsukawa Bunchō & Sharaku17%6%6% 7% 9%6%  40%794 99.5%
The actor Ichikawa Yaozō II as Akeba no Chōkichi, in reality Soga no Gorō in a performance at the Nakamura Theatre in I/1770, KN 4:126. The writing top left is MS by a contemporary collector (Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

A real problem with most prints by Katsukawa artists, and also those by Bunchō and certainly the hosoban format compositions by Sharaku, is that these were destined at an audience of connoisseurs, who knew the plays, who knew the actors, who were mostly associated with an actor’s fanclub, so it was absolutely superfluous to print the names of the actors and their roles, as had been the custom until then. Consequently, it can be quite a problem for us nowadays to associate these prints with specific performances and date them accordingly. We are then lucky to have at least quite a few programmes illustrating the highlights of the plays and details of the performances to be found in the Annual Records of the Kabuki Theatres, Kabuki nenpyō 『歌舞伎年表』. And then there is a small number of prints that were inscribed by a contemporary collector, giving the names of the actor, the role, the theatre, and the date of the performance – as we can see in the figure to the right.

As in the preceding years, when benizuri prints were predominant, prints after performances in the eleventh and first months still take first and second positions, though the difference, percentagewise, is much larger: initially they were 42 and 29%, then 27 and 35%, now they are 17 and 40%, so the first month performances are quite dramatically decreasing. And there are third, fourth, and fifth positions for the seventh month (9%), the fifth month (7%), the second, third and eighth months (each 6%), leaving only the fourth, sixth, ninth, and tenth months out. In summary, we see in the period from 1697 to 1760 that 71% of the prints are after performances in the first and eleventh months, and only 29% such prints are bought by those wanting more than just one or two prints. And in the years when benizurie 紅摺絵 were predominant, 62% were prints after performances in the first and eleventh months, and some 38% were prints after performances in other months, already quite an increase. And in the years of the Katsukawa domination until the end of the eighteenth century, 57% were prints after performances in the eleventh and first months, leaving 43% for prints after performances in the other nine months. This makes it all the more interesting to find out whether something like a stable situation had now been reached, so that designing prints of actors would no longer be a strictly seasonal job for most – we’ll see it soon.

Japanese Prints of Actors – A Brief History Intermezzo: 1764-1796

In Part 2 of my Brief History of Prints of Actors, I raised the question ‘how designers of prints in much of the eighteenth century could possibly make a living,’ as well as suggesting that ‘it is only from the 1760s that Torii Kiyomitsu 鳥居清満 and Torii Kiyotsune 鳥居清経 can finally make a living by illustrating 71 and 200 popular novels respectively, in addition to the prints they designed, a totally new development of the time.’ As this may raise some eyebrows or even the question whether this is really correct, it may be good to have a closer look at the development of popular fiction at the time.

Going by Yamazaki Fumoto’s Nihon shōsetsu nenpyō 山崎麓『日本小説年表附総目録』(近代日本文學大系25) of 1929  – certainly not an infallible source, but absolutely sufficient for an overview and an adequate understanding of the developments – we find for the 1750s a total of 219 various kinds of popular fiction that go by the overall term of kusazōshi 草双紙, the largest portion, some 41%, being of the then popular kurohon 黒本 genre. For only 26 of these 219 titles the name of the illustrator is indicated. When you might consider this surprising, you’ll probably be even more amazed to learn that an author is only mentioned for 79 of these publications, or 36% – and later on, we’ll see why. Indeed, the 1750s and especially the 1760s is the period when names of writers are only just beginning to be mentioned, as also the late Nakano Mitsutoshi 中野三敏 (1935-2019) correctly remarked – but please forgive, I don’t remember where exactly. In the 1760s kurohon it would mostly be Kansuidō Jōa 観水堂丈阿 1686-1770 act 1752-70 whose name is mostly given, probably as he was then the most popular author.

And what about the Kyōhō Proclamation 享保布令 of XI/1722, you may wonder, as this required all publications to clearly indicate the real names of both author and publisher. Absolutely correct, but the common practice in Japan is that it prefers to have rules just in case there is some good occasion or need to apply them. And that moment would eventually and even most incidentally come with the Kansei Regulations of V/1790 (see below), and later again with more consequences with the Tenpō Reforms, Tenpō no kaikaku 天保の改革 of XII/1838 (Feb/1839), and mostly in Edo and to a much lesser extent in the Kansai Region, although they witnessed serious problems and unrest from the peasant uprising led by Ōshio Heihachirō 1793-1837 大塩平八郎 (cf also Kabuki nenpyō 7:345 歌舞伎年表).

Going back to the popular novels, in the 1760s, we see a considerable increase, numbering a total of 494 titles, with for only 198 the illustrator being mentioned. The majority, some 57% is still of the kurohon genre. And in the 1770s the number still increases to 529 titles, with for 262 of these an illustrator given. As I remarked earlier, this is where we finally see the beginnings of the ukiyo or ‘floating world’ culture. No less than 259 of these titles, some 56%, are of the kibyōshi 黄表紙 genre that by general agreement starts in 1775 with Koikawa Harumachi’s 恋川春町 1744-1789 Professor Clink-Clink’s Dream of Glory, Kinkin sensei eiga no yume『金々先生栄花夢』 illustrated by himself, and published by Urokogataya Magobei 鱗形屋孫兵衛. Ever since, novels of the kibyōshi 黄表紙 genre would continue to be a great success, until they were replaced by novels of both the yomihon 読本 and the gōkanmono 合巻本 genres from about 1805. Indeed, in the 1780s we can see some 653 new titles of the kibyōshi genre alone, an average annual production of 65 titles, with the names of the illustrators given for 475 of them, and their writers now for 529 titles. Later still, in the 1790s, their number stays steady and we can cite some 479 titles.

It is thanks to this ever increasing market of various genres of popular literature that those Edo publishers who chose to just focus on local production, the so-called jihon toiya 地本問屋, could develop. Their audience is the more than 1.3 million inhabitants of the metropolis Edo, undoubtedly also finding an avid readership among the 600.000 samurai directly serving the shogun. In fact, to get back to the writers of popular fiction, Koikawa Harumachi 恋川春町 act 1773-89 who is recognized as the author of the first kibyōshi novel, was a vassal of Matsudaira Hōshū 松平房州, the daimyō of Suruga 駿河侯 (as Kyokutei Bakin 1767-1848 in his recollections, Recent Books and the Party of Edo Writers, Kinsei mono no hon Edo sakusha burui. 曲亭馬琴『近世物の本江戸作者部類』1831, in the Kimura Miyogo 木村三四吾 edition of Tokyo: Yagi Shoten, 1988, p 31 tells us). We shall soon see why exactly this position enabled him to become a prolific writer of fiction (14 kibyōshi in the 1770s and 16 in the 1780s). Taking lessons with Toriyama Sekien 鳥山石燕 1713-1788 — whom we know as the teacher of Kitagawa Utamaro 喜多川歌麿 — he would also make the illustrations for most of his writings himself, as well as illustrating those by other authors. Hōseidō Kisanji 朋誠堂喜三二 1735-1813, act 1777-91 (9 kibyōshi in the 1770s and 24 in the 1780s) enjoyed a similar position as a vassal of Satake Ukeichō 佐竹右京兆, the Kubota daimyō 久保田侯 (Bakin 30).

As for Ichiba Tsūshō 市場通笑 1737-1812 act 1779-95 (8 kibyōshi in the 1770s, 96 in the 1780s, and 4 in the 1790s) he appears to have just written novels in his leisure time, otherwise making a living as a mounter of paintings, hyōgushi 表具師 (Bakin 32). Somewhat comparable is the position of Shiba Zenkō 芝全交 1750-1793 act 1780-93 (27 kibyōshi in the 1780s and 16 in the 1790s), writing popular fiction next to his official position of kyōgen actor 狂言師, a kind of comic performances such as were especially popular in daimyō courts (Bakin 32). And Nansenshō Somando 南仙笑楚満人 act 1783-99 (9 kibyōshi in the 1780s and 19 in the 1790s) made a living as a maker of sword sheaths, 鞘師 (Bakin 33).

Kane wa Ueno kana 『鐘は上野哉』A kibyōshi novel by Santō Kyōden illustrated by Kitao Masanobu, i.e. himself

Here we should realize that their writing popular novels would not necessarily yield them some extra income. As we know from Bakin’s recollections ([Bakin 37] act as a writer of 28 kibyōshi in the years 1793-98), it was only around 1795 or 1796 that the publishers Tsutaya Jūsaburō 蔦屋重三朗 and Tsuruya Kiemon 鶴屋喜衛門 decided to at least pay their star writers Santō Kyōden 山東京伝 1761-1816 (act as a writer of kibyōshi in the years 1780-99, 39 in the 1780s and 61 in the 1790s) and himself, as their novels generally sold in editions of 10 thousand copies or more (mind you, a best seller is presently defined as a book selling to 1% of the population, which would be 13.000 copies in the case of Edo). But this was not automatically applied to most other writers. They might at best hope to get some newly published novels or woodblock prints as a New Year present, or maybe being invited to some dinner party in the second or third month at the Yoshiwara — as had been the custom until then.

This explains how and why samurai writers such as Harumachi and Kisanji could afford writing novels in their spare time, enjoying a regular income anyway. Or also, for example as we saw, Ichiba Tsūshō, Shiba Zenkō and Nansenshō Somando, each of them next to their regular metier. Bakin also tells us that many aspiring writers had to pay a publisher the so-called nyūgin 入銀, a sum to have their writings printed and published, which probably explains the numerous names of authors just identified with one or just a very small number of novels in the last decades of the eighteenth century.

However convincing this may seem, it must also be said that Mizuno Minoru in his Santō Kyōden nenpukō. Tokyo: Perikansha, 1991, p 42 (水野稔『山東京伝年譜稿』東京:ぺりかん社) asserts that Kyōden received an advance of one gold ryō and five silver monme 金一兩銀五匁 in VII/1790 for three sharebon 洒落本 that Tsutaya Jūsaburō would publish in I/1791. This is quite well-documented as this would eventually as a result of the Kansei Regulations of V/1790, in III/1791 lead to Kyōden being fined to 50 days in handcuffs, Tsutaya as the publisher seeing half of his possessions confiscated, and the members of the Guild who had okayed their publication being exiled from Edo. There is probably some reason not to rely too much on Bakin’s memory.

Bakin also informs us that Koikawa Sukimachi 恋川好町 1751-1829, a pupil of Koikawa Harumachi, saw some success as a writer of popular novels (15 in the years 1785-94), but couldn’t really make a living (Bakin 35). He then gave up and started training as a writer of kyōka 狂歌 poems. Becoming a judge of these poems and charging one ryō silver  一銀両for his correcting a hundred poems, he finally could make a living. We now know him best as one of the greatest kyōka poets of the early nineteenth century, Kyōkadō Magao 狂歌堂真顔.

As for the background of Iba Kashō 伊庭可笑 38 kibyōshi in the years 1779-86, we have no idea and Bakin doesn’t mention him. A minor writer such as Shitchin Manpō 七珍万宝1758-1831 could afford to do this as an aside to his sweet shop 上菓子店 by Shiba Zōjōji 芝増上寺, or more precisely at Sakurada Kubochō 桜田久保町 as Kyōka jinmei  jisho 『狂歌人名辞書』 has it (Bakin 38). Bakin specifies that he was a pupil of Manzōtei 万象亭writing fiction from late Tenmei until mid-Kansei. Indeed, I found him active in the years 1787-95 with 21 kibyōshi novels to his name. Later he took the name of Manzōtei II and gave up writing fiction, becoming a renowned kyōka poet, active until his death in 1831.

Sakuragawa Jihinari 櫻川慈悲成 1762-1833? presents a somewhat similar case. Bakin informs us that he was running a small shop of Imari porcelains and metal ornaments 今利焼などの陶器を鬻ぐ小店  and that he had but little success with his writings — 47 kibyōshi in the years 1789-99 — and even still displaying no talent when he turned to writing kyōka poems (Bakin 39). Here I would suggest that he deserves some more praise for what he accomplished, for example, among others, he made some very nice surimono designs himself and initiated a most impressive series of annual New Year’s surimono, and was good or even close friends with Utagawa Toyohiro 歌川豊広, Ichikawa Danjūrō VII 七世市川團十郎, and Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重.

In conclusion we may say that writing fiction was, at least in the last decades of the eighteenth century, rather a vocation for those who could afford it and would have some leisure time. When we may believe Bakin, it was only from the middle of the 1790s that both he and Kyōden were being paid for their writings, though there is some evidence that Kyōden was even paid a considerable advance sum already in 1790. We may, on the other hand, assume that illustrators, or at least most of them, were considered to be ‘painters,’ eshi 絵師, and thus craftsmen who were naturally being paid for their work. And this, as I stated at the beginning, is how Torii Kiyomitsu and Kiyotsune could make a living as illustrators in the exploding market of popular novels, with a readership that expected a text that would be enlightened by explanatory illustrations.

Most likely, Koikawa Harumachi who, as we saw, also made the illustrations to most of his writings, was not considered an eshi, even though he studied with Sekien, being a samurai anyway, and thus he was not being paid for his illustrations. It seems that Santō Kyōden studied painting with Kitao Shigemasa 北尾重政 1739-1819 from about 1775, aged 14, and made his debut in 1778 as the artist Kitao Masanobu 北尾政演, illustrating the novel Ohana Hanshichi – Kaichō riyaku no mekuriai『お花半七―開帳利益遊合』 as well as the cover for a jōruribon 浄瑠璃本, illustrating another four novels as well as again a jōruribon in 1779, and in 1780 eleven kibyōshi, one sharebon 洒落本 novel and at least six prints of actors in role in the hosoban 細版 format. And then, maybe sufficiently convinced of some promising future, it is also in 1780 that he starts writing novels, illustrated by himself and published by Tsuruya Kiemon, the Yonemanju no hajimari『米饅頭始』in two vols and signed ‘written and ills by Kitao Masanobu’ 北尾政演画作, and Musume katakiuchi kokyō no nishiki 『娘敵討古郷錦』in three vols and signed ‘written for fun by Kyōden’ 京伝戯作. From then, he would always continue to illustrate most of his writings himself. And, as we learned from Bakin, he would be paid for his writing from about 1795 or 1796. We then have no idea whether it was his lifestyle, needing some more income, that made him run a shop of tobacco pouches and such smoking utensils from IV/1794.

Japanese Prints of Actors – A Brief History Part 2: 1742-1769

From the Kanpō period 寛保 1741-1743, and more exactly from the year 1742, prints with two to three colours printed from blocks begin to appear, the so-called benizurie 紅摺絵, mostly in a colour scheme identical to benie and primarily in the hosoban format. However, it is only from 1744 that these would account for most of the print production, and it is only from about 1750 that they completely supersede urushie, although we can even find a few exceptions as late as 1760. Their designers are Ishikawa Toyonobu 石川豊信 act 1743-59, Torii Kiyomitsu 鳥居清満 act 1745-77, Torii Kiyohiro 鳥居清廣 act 1752-68, and Torii Kiyotsune 鳥居清経 act 1757-78, some of them even adopting the novel technique of full colour printing, nishikie 錦絵, from 1764.

Torii Kiyomitsu: The actor Ichikawa Raizō as Minamoto no Yoshitsune, XI/1761 Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago

Looking then at prints issued in the period from 1742 to 1769, the heyday of benizurie prints, we notice quite a shift. This period comes to an end when the newly developed full colour prints, nishikie, become the overall standard. Although we can notice a few designers of the Torii-tradition who still as late as 1778 try to serve their traditional clientele with benizurie prints, in the end they too have to submit to innovation.

1697 1760tane urushie42% 9%   5%   29%99.5%
1742 1769benizurie27%9%9% 5% 6%   35%100%

What we see in the benizurie days is that most prints of actors in role are associated with performances in the eleventh month, 35%, those associated with the New Year’s performances being second with only 27%, indeed a total reversal from the preceding period, as if the notion of the ‘kabuki year’ is now being accepted much more widely. In the third place are prints associated with performances in the second and third months, both accounting for 9%. The fourth place is for prints after performances in the seventh month, 6%, followed by those in the fifth month, 5%.

Ishikawa Toyonobu: The actors Nakamura Kiyosaburō as Matsuyama and Ichimura Kamezō as Wanya Kyūbei, XI/1749 Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago

Yet, even with only five remaining months, and not seven as before, accounting for one to three percent of the prints of actors only, we still must really wonder how designers of prints in much of the eighteenth century could possibly make a living. For most of the print buying audience, if we can even speak of that in this period, it seems to have sufficed to just buy something like one print every year, either after the kaomise performances of the eleventh month, or after the New Year’s performances. And in case they might have forgotten the name of the actor and the role he played, these are invariably printed alongside the figures. Only very few slightly more passionate kabuki lovers, less than 30% in the earlier period it seems, and still less than 40% in this second period, seem to have been buying one or two more prints of actors in role.

We should also take into consideration that it was, until the 1760s, almost impossible to gain some extra income from making book illustrations or even design picture books, ehon 絵本 (of course, Moronobu 菱川師宣 and Jihei 杉村治兵衛 are exceptions in Edo). Okumura Toshinobu is known for just one book, as are Torii Kiyonobu II and Torii Kiyohiro. Nishimura Shigenaga 西村重長 is known for three books, Torii Kiyomasu II for twelve (in a period of 48 years of activity), and Torii Kiyoshige 鳥居清重 for sixteen (in 35 years of activity). If we also include books of erotic content, which the Japanese literature tries to ignore altogether, Torii Kiyonobu I is known for 6 books, five of which are of erotic content, Okumura Masanobu for 36 books, 23 of which are of erotic content, and Ishikawa Toyonobu for 13 books, all of erotic content. However, it is only from the 1760s that Torii Kiyomitsu and Torii Kiyotsune can finally make a living by illustrating 71 and 200 popular novels respectively, in addition to the prints they designed, a totally new development of the time.

Torii Kiyomitsu: The actors Ichimura Uzaemon IX as Nagoya Sanza and Ichimura Kamezō II, XI/1766 Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago

Indeed, it is only from the 1760s that we find ourselves in a society where what we generally believed to be the ‘Floating World’ can finally, and only then, begin to develop. Until then, popular novels don’t get “popular” thanks to their illustrations or illustrators. And it would seem that, until then, only very few designers of prints could have made a living, or survive by just designing prints. Of course, we have no idea of the survival rate of prints in the eighteenth century, but even when we consider a survival rate of one third or one fourth, how, for example, could Torii Kiyotsune possibly have made a living for 21 years on a total of 3 x 18 = 54, or maybe 4 x 18 = 72 print designs, if only thanks to his illustrations to 200 popular novels? Or if we just take the 149 prints of actors listed by Mutō as a base, should we consider him as someone trying to make a living on the basis of 3 x 149 = 447 or 4 x 149 = 596 – which still comes down to not more than an annual production of 21 or 28 designs, sort of one every other week? Should we consequently consider most of these designers as gifted amateurs with some other regular income to make a living and support their family and occasionally maybe even running a part-time atelier with pupils? Anyway, they are eshi 絵師 or maybe gakō 画工, draughtsmen, certainly belonging to the social class of craftsmen.

Naturally, the various heads of the Torii tradition enjoyed a regular income from painting the posters of the Edo kabuki theatres, which brought them from Osaka to Edo to begin with, and this would go for Torii Kiyonobu 1664-1729, Torii Kiyonobu II 1706-1763, for Torii Kiyomitsu 1735-1785, and maybe also for Torii Kiyonaga 鳥居清長 1752-1815. Moreover, as the heads of the Torii tradition, they must have been able to make a living and train the next generation of Torii designers. The one other exception would be Okumura Masanobu who, as the ’inventor of perspective prints, ukie’ 浮繪根元, and much more, also acted as a real innovative publisher.

Of course, as we know, certainly also from Higuchi’s work, these artists justly considered themselves as craftsmen and also designed prints of fashionable women, as well as other fashionable images. Foremost in this respect are Nishimura Shigenaga act 1719-54, with only 6 prints of actors in role out of a total of 52 prints listed in Higuchi, that is 11%, and the real versatile talent Okumura Masanobu, with only 32 prints of actors out of the 111 works listed with Higuchi, or 28%. In the case of both Ishikawa Toyonobu with 22 prints of actors out of 58 prints listed in Higuchi (Mutō lists 90 prints of actors), and Torii Kiyohiro with 16 prints of actors out of 37 (Mutō lists 145), we are still in the less than 50% range with 38 and 43% respectively. However, for most other artists, prints of actors in role seem to have been their primary production, and consequently we must indeed wonder how they possibly made a living. For Nishimura Shigenobu 西村重信 act 1722-47 with 16 prints of actors out of a total of 27 listed in Higuchi (Mutō lists 46), this makes up for 60% of his oeuvre. Both Torii Kiyomasu I, Okumura Toshinobu, and Torii Kiyomitsu make prints of actors to 65% of their output, Kiyomasu with 39 prints out of 60, Toshinobu with 34 out of 52, and Kiyomitsu with 47 out of the 72 designs listed in Higuchi. Torii Kiyotsune, gets to 77% with 14 prints of actors out of 18, and both Torii Kiyonobu I and Torii Kiyomasu II not really surprisingly reach 79%, Kiyonobu with 62 prints of actors out of 78 designs, and Kiyomasu with at least 60 of the 76 designs by him listed in Higuchi. With Torii Kiyoshige act 1721-63 and Torii Kiyonobu II we get to the 95% range, with Kiyoshige being listed in Higuchi with 19 designs of actors out of a total of 20 designs, and Kiyonobu with 54 out of 57.

Next time A Brief History of Prints of Actors, Part 3A: 1764-1796, or maybe just an Intermezzo: Don’t Look Back

Japanese Prints of Actors – A Brief History Part 1: 1697-1760

It is really fascinating to have a closer look at what came to be called ‘actor prints’ from late Meiji, when the Japanese also started to demonstrate some real interest in Japanese woodblock prints and then coined the term yakushae 役者絵. At the time when these were made, they were simply called ‘pictures of figures,’ sugatae 姿繪, or also ‘pictures of the appearances of actors,’ yakusha no sugatae 役者の姿繪, as in Toyokuni’s series of Yakusha butai no sugatae, The Appearances of Actors on the Stage 役者舞臺之姿繪, so as to distinguish them from what we now know as ‘prints of beauties,’ bijinga 美人画, again a term only coined in the Meiji period for prints that had simply been known as ‘pictures of figures,’ sugatae, at the time, as in Seirō bijin awase sugata kagami, Mirror of Pictures of the Fair Ladies of the Green Houses 『青楼美人合姿鑑』, the 1776 book by Shunshō and Shigemasa.

Indeed, thanks to some quite comprehensive and reliable overviews of prints of actors, we can now discern some interesting shifts of interest that especially give us a better insight in the practices of print production. Until recently, we could probably just avail ourselves of Higuchi Hiroshi’s Shoki ukiyoe kaisetsu 樋口弘『初期浮世絵解説』 of 1977, or even, earlier still, of Helen Gunsaulus’ The Clarence Buckingham collection of Japanese prints: The Primitives, Chicago 1955. But now there is also Mutō Junko’s Shoki ukiyoe to kabuki 武藤純子『初期浮世絵と歌舞伎』 of 2005 as probably the best source available at the moment.

Torii Kiyonobu II, The actor Ichikawa Danjūrō II in the role of Soga no Jūrō in a performance in I/1733 Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago 1939.2148

Making a chronological inventory of all prints that Mutō lists, and then even splitting them up according to the months when they were issued, we find that most such prints portraying actors in role in the period from 1697 to the mid 1740s can be assigned to the New Year’s performances in the first month. They make up for 42% of the total production, suggesting that it was then some kind of general practice to start the new year buying one’s first (and only?) actor print. Next come those that can be identified with the kaomise 顔見 performances of the eleventh month, the opening of the new kabuki season, 29%, a similar sort of moment for those rather adhering to the official beginning of the kabuki-year. Then follow prints that are associated with performances in the third month, 9%, and with those of the seventh month, 5%. The remaining seven months – there are no performances in the twelfth month – all account for less than 5%, and for the sake of clarity, I ignore them here.

1697 1760tane urushie42%  9%       5%     29%99.5%
Torii Kiyomasu, The actor Fujimura Handayū in the role of Ōiso no Tora, I/1715 Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago 1925.1732

The period that I selected here is not a haphazard one, it covers the early period of prints in line only, sumizurie 墨摺絵, mostly until 1715 (?), and, from 1698-1725, the so-called tane 丹絵 with their characteristic hand colouring in a brilliant cinnabar orange-vermillion with green and yellow, as well as, from 1714-49, the rather predominant urushie 漆絵, prints with a hand-applied black mixed with glue to resemble lacquer, urushi 漆, sometimes even finished with powdered brass in some areas, and, from 1716-49 the less common benie 紅絵, prints hand-coloured with a strong pinkish red pigment and green or yellow. This is also the period of prints in various different formats – a real standardization only dates from 1772 – ranging from very large sheets ōōban 大大判, falling in the range from 594 to 543 x 332 to 312, or large sheets ōban 大判, of 453-380 x 300-270, or medium sheets chūban 中判, of 300 x 215, and, from 1717, the smaller hosoban 細判 of 350-285 x 216-158 that will then soon really become predominant.

These prints were designed by artists such as Torii Kiyonobu 鳥居清信 act 1696-1724, Torii Kiyomasu 鳥居清倍 act 1697-1720), as well as, during part of their careers, by Okumura Masanobu 奥村正信 act 1705-56, Okumura Toshinobu 奥村俊信 act 1717-49, Okumura Toshinobu 奥村利信 act 1717-49, Torii Kiyomasu II 二代鳥居清倍 act 1718-66, and Torii Kiyonobu II 二代鳥居清信 act 1725-61.

Next: Part 2: 1742-1769

Kuniyoshi’s very first ideas for his new compositions

As we know, the aspiring print designer Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) was initially really having a hard time making a living, at times even obliged to be selling tatami mattings or carve the heads of puppets, until, from 1827 he could enjoy some success when his series of Portraits of All of the One Hundred and Eight Heroes of the Popular Suikoden, Tsūzoku Suikoden gōketsu hyakuhachinin no hitori, published by Kagaya Kichiemon, finally brought him success. At the time, he still could hardly afford some good paper or use it as he would have liked. This we can clearly see in his preparatory sketch for the portrait of Rōshi Ensei in this series (National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, RV-3513-x; see my Drawings by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. The Hague 1988, 27), where he used the verso of the sheet for a design of a seated Chinese man. Also in the sketch for Waikyakko Ōei in the same collection (RV-3513-139; Forrer, 42), he later used some empty space for some scribblings of heads and arms, and even what seems to be a first idea for his print of Kikenji Tokyō of the Suikoden series.

Especially this very first idea that came to Kuniyoshi’s mind when he thought about his print of Kikenji Tokyō, as well as quite some other designs that are known in various versions, help us to get closer to Kuniyoshi’s artistry, almost allowing us to look over his shoulders as he was working. As an art historian, I find this fascinating. However, many years ago, when I suggested to some Japanese publisher to make a book on sketches and the corresponding final prints and bookplates, he looked really puzzled, almost shocked by the idea that I didn’t realize that it was only the final product that mattered, as he assured me.

Minamoto no Tametomo shooting an arrow at the ship with Mochimitsu and his warriors. Courtesy National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden RV-3513-95

What I consider a very fine example of Kuniyoshi at work is the preliminary sketch of the great archer Minamoto no Tametomo (1139-1170?) in full armour, shooting an arrow at Mochimitsu’s ship that is seen in the distance on the water, thus drowning almost all of the three hundred men with it (RV-3513-95; Forrer 45).* Kuniyoshi intended this design for the series of The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaidō Road, Kisokaidō rokujūkyūtsugi no uchi, published by Kagaya Yasubei in the years 1852-53. There is already some correction on Tametomo’s face in pasted on pentimenti and even the cartouches for the series and print titles are indicated. But then, as Kuniyoshi showed the preliminary sketch to Kagaya Yasubei, his publisher – and we didn’t know that this was sometimes (?) or maybe always (?) done – he apparently demanded to adapt the design and make it a portrait of the famous 9th century archer Yuriwaka Daijin instead, as we can infer from the scribbling at the bottom, reading ‘Yasubei [says] this [must be] Yuriwaka,’ Yasubei kore Yuriwaka. Amazing, don’t you think. Not only that Kuniyoshi would show, or rather submit his very preliminary sketch to the publisher, but also that he obviously had a say, such as remarking ‘No, forget about Tametomo, I rather want a portrait of Yuriwaka.’

* Please excuse the bad quality of this illustration, this is even better that what I can download from the museum’s website, but as soon as I can access the museum again, I will try to get better pics

And so, Kuniyoshi started working on an adaptation of the design to make it a portrait of Yuriwaka. This we can see in a sketch also preserved in the National Museum of Ethnology (RV-3513-150; Forrer 35). Here he is portrayed without any armour, his clothing just blowing in the wind, though a little less freely than in the print, anyway just a preliminary sketch of the figure of Yuriwaka, although he wouldn’t in the end be stretching the string of his bow as both the string and the arrow would interfere with his face, rather at the moment when he had shot the arrow, as in the original Tametomo design (again as the publisher preferred it?). That is the print published by Kagaya Yasubei in V/1852.

Yuriwaka Daijin shooting an arrow. Courtesy National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden RV-3513-150
The Station of Fukaya from the series The 69 Stations of the Kisokaidō: The heroe Yuriwaka Daijin shooting an arrow

Even then, still not oblivious of his days as a poor aspiring designer of prints, Kuniyoshi didn’t spill any paper and used some empty space in the sheet of this second sketch for three designs of triptych compositions. One of these, at the bottom, between Yuriwaka’s feet, has a first idea for one of his major triptych compositions of A View of the Sea Bottom at Daimotsu Bay, Daimotsu no ura kaitei no zu, with Taira no Tomomori (1151-1185) and some other Taira heroes at the bottom of the sea, rather drowning himself after his defeat in the battle at Dannoura in 1185 than being killed by the Minamoto, attached to a huge anchor, some others already transformed into crabs hurrying to attack Minamoto no Yoshitsune’s ship, the print published by Fujiokaya Keijirō, c.1852 (Robinson T 266; Forrer, Kuniyoshi. Prestel 2020, 95).

A View of the Sea Bottom at Daimotsu Bay, with Taira no Tomomori and some other Taira heroes attached to a large anchor

The other project for a triptych composition, on the right edge, is more difficult to identify. Turning the portrait of Yuriwaka left, we see a group of persons to the right, a man swaying a sword or spear in the centre, and some diagonal lines on the left sheet. Eventually, we can associate this with the print of Benkei Master and Servant in Danger at the Ataka Barrier in the Province of Kaga [when Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189), the Master, and Benkei, the Servant, tried to escape from the troops of Hōjō no Tokimasa in the guise of travelling monks], Kaga no kuni Ataka no seki ni Benkei shūjū no kinan wo suku no zu, published by Tsujiokaya Bunsuke years later, in III/1856. The first sketch recording Kuniyoshi’s first idea of a composition was obviously quite severely adapted in the details, but the general composition remained intact. Anyway, this demonstrates that Kuniyoshi held on to his original ideas of c.1852 and didn’t think it a problem to get back to these some four years later.

Benkei Master and Servant in Danger at the Ataka Barrier in the Province of Kaga

As for the third sketch of a triptych composition, in the left margin, of which only a small part can be seen, it is too difficult to associate this with any known print. Anyway, so far this really may contribute to a much better understanding of Kuniyoshi’s practice as an artist.

Hokusai’s View of Delft

Or is it The Hague? From the rather typical buildings in Hokusai’s scheme of Western perspective that he includes in his Hokusai manga volume 3 of 1815, it is quite obvious that his original inspiration was some European optical print. From the 1730s, the Dutch introduced such prints, produced in London (most by Robert Sayer, Henry Overton, and Carington Bowles), Paris (Chéreau, Daumont, and Basset), and Augsburg (G.B. Probst), in quite large numbers in Japan, where they met with an eager audience. When they reached Edo, they helped Okumura Masanobu develop his so-called ‘perspective views,’ ukie 浮絵, of the interiors of the kabuki theatre and views of the main street of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters around 1739, and later also of other subjects. Although he himself always denied this, the young painter Maruyama Ōkyo 1733-1795 is believed to have made quite a number of Japanese views in this manner for some Kyoto merchant of toys who also sold the necessary apparatus to view these ‘perspective views’ best.

Katsushika Hokusai, The principle of Western perspective from the Hokusai manga, vol. 3 Nagoya: Eirakuya Tōshirō, 1815

I always imagined that Hokusai based his scheme of the Western principles of perspective on some Japanese print and figured that Utagawa Toyoharu’s Perspective view of a harbour in the Southeast of Holland, Ukie Oranda tōnan minato no zu (浮繪和蘭陀國東南港圖) would be the most likely example. Hokusai would then have viewed the Toyoharu print through a zograscope, the apparatus that we can also see in some Harunobu print (see the 2002 Chiba City Museum Harunobu exhibition catalogue, no. 134), which gives a mirrored image. He then used one of the buildings and just two of the trees. This would have sufficed for his immediate purpose of making a scheme that would just show the converging lines towards a vanishing point on the horizon, as is seen on the right-hand page.

Utagawa Toyoharu, Ukie Orandakoku tōnan no minato no zu Edo: Nishimuraya Yohachi, 1770s Courtesy the Trustees of the British Museum (2004,0505,0.1)

To the right in that diagram, he specifies that ’When you start here with a height of three inches’ (koko nite sansun no takasa ni kakan toki ha こゝにて三寸のたかさにか々んときは) to continue at the first line that ‘this is then one inch’ (koko nite issun nari こゝにて一寸也). He then goes on, from top down, explaining ‘The rule of dividing into three’ (mitsuwari no hō 三ツわりの法), which means that ‘You should make the sky two’ (futatsu wo ame to subeshi 二ツを天とすべし), and then ‘the earth becomes one’ (hitotsu wo chi to nasu nari 一ツを地となす也). And the earth is thus printed in grey, whereas the top two horizontal bands, making up the sky, are left blank.

On the left-hand page, Hokusai demonstrates how this would work, drawing a simple scene of a two-storey building, two trees, three figures, and a ship on the horizon. On the front of the house, he notes that ‘the windows are nine tenths’ (kyūbun no mado ha 九分のまどは), whereas they are only ‘three tenths’ (sanbun 三分) on the side, and by the trees he just adds the word ‘tree’ (ki 木). The set of converging lines to the left have the notes ‘what painting looks like’ (kaku no gotoshi かくのごとし) and ‘you should paint in accord with the lines’ (wari no suji ni awase kakubeshi わりのすじにあわせかくべし). Especially from the trees and the standing figures, it becomes clear that we see objects that are nearby larger than those more distant.

View of the Canal and the Municipal Cannon Foundry of The Hague

Then, apart from the circumstance that we do have some rivers but no harbours in the southeast of the country, the question, of course, remains what did Toyoharu take as his example. Until recently I imagined that he would have been familiar with the print of a View of the canal and the municipal cannon foundry of The Hague, Vue du Canal et de l’Hotel de Fonderie de canon a la Haye, published in Paris by Basset at the rue St Jacques à St Nicolas. Until 1660, cannons were founded at the Kloosterkerk, a church indeed, on the Mauritskade at The Hague and the canal was specifically made around 1580 so as to transport the cannons to other cities in the provinces of Holland and West Frisia. Later, the foundry was moved to a new and impressive building on the Nieuwe Uitleg, designed by Pieter Post (1608-1669), and that is the building in this print. But then, there is a rather wide sidewalk along the foundry and the other buildings further down, with quite some people on it, then the row of trees, and only then the canal. But Toyoharu’s print has water both to the right and to the left of the row of buildings. For Hokusai’s view this wouldn’t matter. For the sake of making a clear and directly understandable diagram, as said above, he just needs one building to the right, then the sidewalk with only three persons, and he reduces the row of trees to only two.

Isaac van Haastert, View of the Munition Depot of the City of Delft

Recently, I found some optical print with a View of the Munition Depot of the City of Delft, Vuë du Magazin de Munition de la Ville de Delft, designed by the Delft painter Isaac van Haastert (1753-1834) and made into a copperplate by Johann Jacob Stelzer (1706-1780), published by Georg Balthasar Probst (1732-1801) of Augsburg. As this has the water of the river Schie split into two and streaming on both sides of the central buildings, it seems more plausible to associate this view with the Toyoharu print. The ‘Munition Depot’ or Armamentarium, the building figuring conspicuously in the centre, dates from 1601 and still survives today, almost in its original form, with the Lange Geer to the right and the Oude Delft to the left—as it is, the printed image is not mirrored. Its location is near the Rotterdam and Schiedam city gates as well as nearby the former city timberyard for the Delfshaven harbour. The view incorporates an arched bridge in the distance and the tower of the old city hall, both surviving today, that we also can see somewhat adapted in the Toyoharu print.

I must now add that this identification of the Armamentarium as the source for the Toyoharu print was already earlier made by Oka Yasumasa in his Meganee shinkō. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1992, 172 (岡泰正、『めがね絵新考』東京:筑摩書房) — though not associating the plate with Hokusai’s diagram. Anyway, I should have checked that book which I have, much earlier, of course.

The Armatarium now

So what did Hokusai see? If it was the Toyoharu print, he at least must have viewed it through a zograscope to get the building to the right and the trees to the left, and making the canal into a sidewalk. And the ‘harbour’ mentioned in the title would have inspired him to include a ship on the horizon. If it were the View of the canal and the municipal cannon foundry of The Hague, the sidewalk was there already and he must have viewed it through a zograscope to have the building to the right and the trees to the left. Moreover, he just focused on one building only and just two trees. And if he by chance had an opportunity to look at the print of the View of the Munition Depot of the City of Delft, again through his zograscope, the prominent position of the building would probably make this a more likely example to come to his composition that just served to illustrate the principles of Western perspective. Anyway, as for the Hokusai perspective diagram, it will remain a problem to definitively associate this with what its model was. For Toyoharu it seems most likely that it was the Delft view designed by Van Haastert. As for Hokusai, we cannot totally ignore the view of the The Hague foundry, but also the Delft view cannot be ruled out.

What remains is the group of South Sea Islanders in the lower half of this double-page composition. This is not merely a confirmation that we are here dealing with foreign subjects or influences, there is more to be said on them, but that has to wait for some next time.

Sekien Books of Ghosts – Ctd 5

After the Konjaku Zoku hyakki, the Sequel to the Hundred Ghosts, had been published in I/1779, Sekien wasn’t given too much of a break. The continuing success made his publishers again ask him for more. And so he started working on the Konjaku – Hyakki shūi 今昔百鬼拾遺, something like ‘Gleanings of a Hundred Ghosts,’ that was published in I/1781. It is again a publication in 3 volumes hanshibon, with as mottos Clouds, Dew, and Rain. It has two prefaces and apparently also a postface. But let’s first give the collation:

The Rain Woman Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, Washington

Konjaku – Hyakki shūi 今昔百鬼拾遺

3 vols hanshibon Vol 1 Kumo 雲 (Clouds) 12 sh: 4 pp pref to the Hyakki shūi 百鬼拾遺 signed Genshū Shōbukan 元洲勝武幹, s: Genshū, Shōbukan no in 印: 元洲, 勝武幹之印, dated Anei jū kanoto mi no haru 安永十辛巳春 (Anei 10 year of the Snake, Spring, I/1781); 2 pp pref signed Sekien jijo 石燕自序 (Sekien’s own preface), dated Anei kyū no toshi rōgetsu 安永九のとし蝋月 [sic, for 臘月] (Anei 9 twelfth month, XII/1780); 1 p contents for Hyakki yagyō shūi 百鬼夜行拾遺; 2 pp frontispiece: the mirage of a clam, shinkirō 蜃気楼; 15 pp ills. Vol 2 Tsuyu 露 (Dew) 10 sh: 1 p contents; 19 pp ills. Vol 3 Ame 雨 (Rain) 9 sh: 1 p contents; 14 pp ills; 2 pp ill of Daikoku celebrating the New Year; 1 p colophon: Anei jū kanoto ushi no haru 安永十辛丑春 (Anei 10 year of the Ox, I/1781)/ Toriyama Sekien Toyofusa 鳥山石燕豊房/ assisted by his pupils Shikō 子興 (Eishōsai Chōki 栄松齋長喜)/ Enji 燕二/ block-cutter Inoue Shinshichi 井上新七/ Edo publ 江戸 Izumoji Izuminojō  出雲寺和泉掾/ Enshūya Yashichi 遠州屋弥七.

This is after a copy in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington (ex Gerhard Pulverer , ex Henri Vever [1948:285])

The first preface, in the Joly & Inada translation, reads as follows (my annotations in square brackets):

The artist Sekiyen is a retired old man of very gentle character, he is very fond of his garden the pond of which is “9 hiro deep” (9 fathoms or brasses [仭, an ancient Chinese measure, one jin ranging from four to eight shaku, or 121 – 242 cm]) he amuses himself in that garden all the year round, in flowering spring, and in the cool shade on hot summer days (shūzui tekka nawazu [秋水荻花□]) in autumn the stream flows to the pond, laden with the floating blossoms of Hagi [萩 bush clover], in winter the whole garden is a white mass of snow, and as he thus amuses himself he does not notice the years (growing old). When anyone of similar taste pays him a visit, he offers them excellent tea and talks about painting. When he takes up his brush, he can finish more than a hundred subjects at once. He is not too old when it comes to drawing & I am astonished at the easy way in which he draws like a young man. And in consequence, he has many pupils and he has published many books well known to the public.

In the spring of the Monkey year [1776] he published Hiakki Yagio [Hyakki yagyō], the latter part of which came out during the Boar year [the Zoku hyakki, 1779], both are now out, and this year his publisher asked him for some more ghost pictures. So the old one said: If I draw this sort of subject so often, I am afraid that it may spoil my energy and that moreover, in years to come I shall be laughed at and many devils & Bakemono will be annoyed at my paintings. So his publisher said: Artists must have very superior minds (above these considerations) and if the devils are annoyed, just as if millet grains looked like drops of rain it would show the power of Art.

So earnestly did he ask the old man that Sekiyen at last took his brush again, collecting all sorts of Bakemono, to publish the third volume under the title Hiakki Shui. He asked me for a preface and I have accepted although my knowledge is so small. As the old man said: this is just for the fun of it and for the amusement of children so that you need not worry very much, & therefore I wrote this preface notwithstanding my ignorance.

Anyei 10 [1781], Genshu Tobu

Hairy Wings for a Hairy Manifestation Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, Washington

The second preface, in the Joly & Inada translation, reads as follows:

Waka (Japanese poetry) has the power of expressing all feelings (even those of inanimate things). Thus paintings describe all sorts of Bakemono and devils, exaggerated by the brush as I thought of them in my mind. I am quite ashamed to have drawn such a book, but my publisher wanted it so much because it was, said he, a very good sort of book to stop children crying, and he asked me again and again for it, so that finally I have agreed to have it put upon cherry wood blocks.

Anyei 9th December [XII/1780], Sekiyen

Joly & Inada then add a postface that is apparently missing in the Freer copy, which reads as follows:

There was once a pigeon which was changed into a golden hook, and a deer that became a writing brush. Age is a treasure (old people are quite important).

Sekiyen although 72 years old is still in splendid health. He has finished from the beginning of Hiakki Yagio [Hyakki yagyō, 1776] to the latter part [the Zoku hyakki, 1779], and he has had many prefaces from many people famed in literature. At last he has succeeded in drawing another volume to add to the last edition. It is very interesting that so many devils could be made from furniture, I am surprised that he has been able to change from ordinary utensils into so many wonderful designs of Bakemono. Though he is so old, yet he has wonderful strength to draw such minute pictures and he his [is] still young in that respect. He asked me for a postface and I have written this.

Old man of Kanda (神田庵主人)

Again another nice problem, where does this postface come from, it was certainly not present in the 1805 reprint by Maekawa Rokuzaemon 前川六左衛門 and Maekawa Yahei 前川弥兵衛, at least not in the copy of this printing in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, the only other copy I could, so far, locate on the internet and also used by Yoda and Alt.  

Sekien Books of Ghosts Ctd 4

The second in Sekien’s parade of Ghost Books is the Konjaku zoku hyakki 今昔続百鬼 also found with the title Konjaku gazu – Zoku hyakki 今昔畫圖 続百鬼 of 1779. It is again in the hanshibon format and comprised of three volumes. I couldn’t find a complete set of images of a first edition copy on the internet—the British Museum has two copies and cites somewhat strange dates for them and only pics of three pages. A copy of the 1805 reprint in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, is as follows:

An Ōkubi, or Large Head
Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, Washington

Konjaku gazu – Zoku hyakki 今昔畫圖 続百鬼  – 3 vols hanshibon Vol 1 – U 雨 (Rain) 10 sh: 4 pp pref headed Hyakki yagyō daiji 百鬼夜行 題辞 (prefatory motto) signed Katakian Dōjin 頑菴道人 s: Katakian Dōjin, xxkin no shō, 印: 頑菴道人, □瑾之章, of the Sengyūkan at the Kichijōrin (the Kichijō Grove, probably near Kichijō Temple, or in the village named after it), in the Nippori District in the Eastern Capital (Edo) 東都日莫里吉祥林之穿牛觀 dated Anei tsuchinoe inu kishū no hi 安永戊戌季秋日 (Anei year of the Dog, one Autumn day, IX/1778); 2 pp pref preceded by the seal Reiryōdō 零陵洞 (one of Sekien’s art names) signed Toriyama Sekien 鳥山石燕 s: unread, Sekien no in 印:□, 石燕之印; 1 p contents; 13 pp ills. Vol 2 – Kau 晦 (Darkness) 11 sh: 1 p contents; 21 pp ills. Vol 3 – Mei 明 (Clearness) 11 sh: 1 p contents; 21 pp ills; ibc colophon: Toriyama Sekien Toyofusa 鳥山石燕豊房/ assisted by his pupils 校合門人 Shikō 子興 (Eishōsai Chōki 栄松齋長喜)/ Enji 燕二/ Enjū 燕十(Shimizu Enjū 志水燕十 1747-1810)/ Anei hachi tsuchinoto i no haru 安永八己亥春 (Anei 8 year of the Boar [I/1779])/ Bunka ni kinoto ushidoshi kyūhan 文化二乙丑年求板 (reprinted Bunka 2 year of the Ox [1805])/ block-cutter Machida Sukeemon 町田助右衛門/ Edo bookshops Maekawa Rokuzaemon 江戸 前川六左衛門/ Maekawa Yahei 前川弥兵衛.

Another copy with the 1805 dating, published by Maekawa Magobei 前川孫兵衛 and Maekawa Rokuzaemon 前川六左衛門, has only the Sekien preface (National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden RV-1-4459 — and was probably bought by Siebold in 1826). This is apparently also the case with the Regamey copy, as Joly & Inada only give a translation of the Sekien preface.

A Hannya, or Woman Turned Demon
Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, Washington

The Sekien preface reads as follows:

From very ancient times hundreds of devils and Bakemono [ghosts and apparitions] have been depicted by Jozu (上手 experts) and handed down in various families. As I was asked to copy them with my unskilled brush, I became very greatly interested, for there were so many dreadful bakemono that I was afraid the real devil might suddenly appear (to me) in this world. The publisher of my previous books asked me for this volume as an addition to the last one and I have accepted his offer.

The Sekien prefaces and postscripts are admittedly not extremely inspired, but in view of Sekien’s quite specific remark on the problem ’to make the faces of the ghosts that we cannot see with our eyes frightening’ and his likening this to ‘a dragon that might appear,’ the Yoda & Alt translation is more faithful to the original:

Since times of old, the night parade of the demon horde has been passed down, copied and kept in the houses of the great masters. Here I have acquiesced to demands to apply my humble techniques to the topic. There’s no hope of achieving realism when it comes to the fearsome faces of things that can’t be seen with the human eye, but I can at least shock and awe, and so I have tried my best with humble skills to capture their bizarre forms once again. Running my fingers over my beloved earlier work, I mused: I certainly love drawing this sort of thing, but what if a real demon showed up? When a certain man got a visit from a real dragon it was utterly terrifying.* But even still, when the bookseller pleaded for a sequel to my book of a few years back, I found it hard to refuse. And so I, Toriyama Sekien, find myself again taking up my brush under the moonlight.**

* (A Chinese parable about a magistrate named Ye who loved dragons so much that he decorated his entire house with dragon figures and motifs. And one day, an actual dragon dropped by to thank him. But upon seeing the “real deal,” Ye turned and ran in terror.)

** [‘under the moonlight’ reads as Gessō no moto 月窓下, ‘under my moonlit window,’ one of Sekien’s artnames]