Kunisada: Early Triptych of Actors Backstage at the Nakamura Theater (Sold)

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Artist: Utagawa Kunisada I (1786-1865)
Title: Actors Backstage at the Nakamura Oiri 中村座大入楽屋当たり振舞之図
Date: 1811

“Backstage Celebrations of a Full-house Hit at the Nakamura Theater”(Nakamura-za ôiri gakuya atari furumai no zu). Fascinating and important early triptych by Kunisada showing actors backstage at the Nakamuraza Theater. Using isometric perspective, we see the goings-on of scores of actors and the intimate details of their lives in the theater. In the center an enormous celebratory feast has been laid out, with actors in a circle about to begin enjoying it. A waiter brings out a covered dish, middle lower area. Lower right we see a young boy being entertained while his hair is carefully styled by an attendant. This actor seems to have his own room, and we can see his makeup stand, lower right as well as folded costumes, wigs and prop swords along the wall. A written list has been posted, perhaps of upcoming roles. There is a wig stand in the corner and a tray of food that looks untouched. Along the walls along the back we see more storage for costumes and props, as well as numerous makeup stands. To the left must be the entry way, as wee see people still wearing their footwear as they assess the scene before them.

Kunisada designed at least six of these early backstage views, and they were an immediate success that inspired the publisher Eijudo to create an entirely new type of illustrated printed book, the Shohon-jitate (Stories in promptbook form), which were intended to translate the experience of the theatergoer into printed form. Eijudo published many of the most famous works of ukiyo-e.

The MFA has identified the following actors in this triptych: Ogino Izaburô II, Onoe Kokozô, Onoe Eizaburô II, Iwai Matsunosuke I, Bandô Tsurujûrô I, Seki Sanpei, Onoe Onozô, Ichikawa Tobizô, Ichikawa Tsurusaburô, Arashi Tomisaburô I, and Kirishima Giemon I (R); Suketakaya Kingorô I, Sakata Jinkichi, Suketakaya Takasuke II, Onoe Matsusuke II, Ichikawa Onoe I, Nakamura Shichisaburô IV, Iwai Hanshirô V, Nakamura Chobisuke I, Nakajima Hyakuemon I, Seki Sanjûrô II, Ichikawa Nosuke (C); Iwai Kiyotarô III, Nakamura Utaemon III, Nakamura Tôzô II, Otani Monzô I, Fujikawa Tomokichi II, Onoe Monzaburô II, Ichikawa Ichizô I, Ichiyama Shichizô II, Matsumoto Tokunosuke, Mimasu Miyozô, Bandô Denzaburô, Bandô Zenkichi II, Ichikawa Danshichi, Matsumoto Sankichi I (L).

Condition: Excellent impression and color; very good/good condition. Areas of repair on the leftmost sheet and some stains. With unusually unfaded colors, which makes the scene come alive.
Dimensions: ôban triptych  (38.5 x 78 cm)
Publisher: Eijudo
Literature: See Harvard, MFA. Rijksmuseum, The Ear Catches the Eye (2001), #97. LACMA has one sheet.
Signature: Kunisada ga, Ichiyosai Kunisada ga