Kunisada: Iwai Kumesaburo as Shirai Gonpachi in Festive Kimono

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Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)
Title: Iwai Kumesaburo as Shirai Gonpachi in Festive Kimono
Series: Eiyu  mitate junin otoko (Prosperous Actors of Kabuki as Ten Dandy Men)
Date: Ca. 1848

Portrait of Iwai Kumesaburo (Hanshiro VIII), the kabuki actor who played Shirai Gonpachi in “Ukiyo-zuka hiyoku-no-inazuma“, first performed in March 1823 at the Edo Ichimura-za. He played the two roles of Shirai Gonpachi and Otoki, wife of Banzui Chobei. 

      The upper part of his kimono shows a set of hina-ningyo dolls of a prince and an ordinary woman; these symbolize the lovers Gonpachi and Komurasaki of the Tea House Miura-ya. The bottom portion features chrysanthemums, which symbolize a happy occasion such as a wedding.  Odamaki rolls of thread symbolize longevity and long-lived happiness, referring to the lovers Gonpachi and Komurasaki in the drama. Across his shoulders are also draped festive ornaments.

Regarding this series of ten actor portraits, the first word, eiyu, is a play on words, as it is normally written as 英雄, meaning “ hero“ (of a war). However here  eiyu  is written as 栄優, referring to “the most popular actors. The second word, mitate, means “comparison” and junin otoko means “ten men”. In  Kabuki “Date-otoko” means “ninkyo,“ men of chivalrous spirit, namely those with the edokko (Edoite) temperament. They are very popular figures of Kabuki dramas. 

The actors in this set wear similar styles of kimono and the attributes of dandy men of Edo. These include a sword, a shakuhachi flute, a tobacco pouch, and a towel.  On each fantastic kimono design we see  the related scene of the actors and their roles in Kabuki drama. The name of the series is followed by the subtitles with the names of their famous kabuki roles. Although Kunisada omits the names of the actors, he puts many visual hints related to the stories and the actors , especially the scenes on their kimono layers and the symbols on the obi sash belts and towels.  Therefore the people of Edo at that time knew exactly who they were. Each title cartouche is framed with the specific attributes of the plays. The names of the actors did not appear on the series due to the fact that the censorship under the Tenpo Reforms restricted the publication of Kabuki actors’ portraits. In 1845 the restrictions officially ended; however the publishers of Ukiyo-e were cautious and it is said that they continued to stick to the restrictions. The artists had to be especially creative during this time when it came to actor prints.  (With thanks to Michiko Sato-Grube for her research on this artwork.)

Condition: Excellent impression and color. Very good condition. Binding holes at right. Unbacked and untrimmed.
Dimensions: ôban (35.6 x 24.5 cm)
Publisher: Sugi-U
Signature: Upon the request of the publisher (hangimoto no oju )  Kochoro Toyokuni ga (with Toshidama seal in red)