Kunichika: Triptych of Tattooed Fireman Against Smoke-filled Sky

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Artist: Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900)
Title: Flowers of Edo in Full Bloom
Date: 1864

Three kabuki actors are posed in front of a dark, smoke-filled sky with silhouettes of firefighters seen standing on roofs in the distance as they battle a blaze. In the foreground against this dramatic setting we see at right the actor Kawarazaki Gonjurô as a fireman. He wears the distinctive padded jacket of a firefighter, this one decorated with a leaping carp against waves. He holds a lantern in one hand and joins the other two actors in looking to the right. In the middle is Ichimura Uzaemon, whose tattoo of a dragon holding a jewel is visible on his arms. He holds aloft a lantern in one hand and the hooklike fireman’s tool in his right. To the left is Sawamura Tanosuke III in a female role. She holds her headscarf with the corner of her mouth  and lifts her robe in a very feminine manner. Tanosuki III was a leading onnagata, apparently so influential that s/he set new styles in women’s fashions. He tragically contacted gangrene and had a leg amputated in 1865, yet he continued to perform on stage for a number of years after this. The Portland Art Museum has a fascinating photograph-imitating portrait of the actor from 1870 where the actor is shown playing a disabled character.  The full title of this triptych is “Flowers of Edo in Full Bloom”, which has something of a double meaning, as both kabuki actors (in a positive way) and the conflagrations that often burned parts of the city (in an ironic way) were known as “flowers of Edo.” According to Sarah Thompson from the MFA,  this is an imaginary scene, concocted to show the three popular actors together. In the Edo Period it was firemen who were most likely to bear extensive tattoos.

Condition: Excellent impression, color and condition. Untrimmed and unbacked. 

 Minor hinging remnants, verso.
Dimensions: ôban triptych (37 x 76 cm, approx.)
Publisher: Manzen
Signature: Kunichika ga