Toshidama Gallery has had an online break of a few months but we are launching a new show with new prints for the spring of 2019. The collection of prints will have some outstanding examples of nineteenth century Japanese woodblock prints. These will include a previously unrecorded print by the Meiji master printmaker, Yoshitoshi, as well as tremendous and rare prints from Kuniyoshi, Kunisada, Kunichika and other leading artists.
To launch the new season, we shall look at the works in the show one by one… the detailed explanations of the prints will be found at the online gallery; this blog will highlight the prints themselves and offer some brief background. The show opens online on the 12th April 2019. All the prints are available to buy.
The outstanding image above is an oban print by Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) from 1883. They’re terribly rare these large head prints, often called okubi-e. It’s odd to think that the style of print was outlawed for decades at a time in the early nineteenth century. They were considered to examples of luxury and decadence that might inflame desire amongst the townspeople of Edo (modern day Tokyo). We can’t see that at all, but the status of the images were close to wildly popular Instagram accounts of celebrities and the fanatacism of people for celebrity is identical.
Although the print seems to be of a female, in fact it is a male actor, Ichikawa Danjuro IX… wildly popular at the time, playing the role of a tragic heroine called Omiwa. The play in which she appears is very typical of nineteenth century kabuki. Omiwa is the daughter of a saki shop owner who is in love with Tankei, (Motome), a hero and warrior who is protecting the elderly Emperor. Through intrigue, Tankei marries the princess Tachibana. Omiwa, tormented by jealousy is killed so that her blood may be used in a potion to assassinate the tyrant Iruka.
The second picture is also of Omiwa, and the object that she is carrying is a spool of cotton, just visible in the lower right of the gorgous okubi-e at the top of the page. The spool is used as a prop in the play as a means by which Omiwa can follow Tankei and discover his real identity. As a ‘virtuous’ woman (as opposed to magicians and poisoners) Omiwa is granted the supernatural ability to save life and act against the evil Iruka. ‘Evil’ beauties on the other hand are possessed of the supernatural means to take life. Through these transformations, Edoists were able to act out (literally) their anxieties about female power and male insecurity.