Utagawa Yoshiiku: Silhouette of the Actor Nakamura Kanchiku 中村翫竹

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Artist: Ochiai (Utagawa) Yoshiiku (1833-1904)
Title: Silhouette of the Actor Nakamura Kanchiku 中村翫竹Series: Portraits as True Likenesses in the Moonlight  真寫月花の姿絵 
Date: 1867

Silhouette portrait of the kabuki actor Nakamura Kanchiku 中村翫竹. He wears his hair in the traditional Edo Period hairstyle. Inset, we see the actor in a role within a roundel. The name of the actor is revealed within the red square seal at right, 翫竹 (Kanchiku). 
His poem reads: “Samidare ya sake nomuna(ra ?) hayasadame” roughly meaning: “If one wants to drink sake like the rain in May, decide/prepare quickly”.
Inspired by popular shadow performances, which were performed in front of a sliding door with a bright light behind them, as well as the development of photographs by camera, Yoshiiku made this series of works that portray the silhouettes of 36 famous actors, comparing them to the 36 Immortal Poets. They seem to have been done from life, with the actors actually sitting for their portraits behind a screen, as this is illustrated in the preface for the series. It is unusual in ukiyo-e to see actors portrayed in a way that may be today considered “realistic”, as features were generally stylized within certain artistic conventions. Early impression. 

Condition: Excellent impression and color; very good condition. Binding holes along left margin and small loss in upper right margin. A few minor smudges.
Dimensions: ôban (36.2 x 23.5 cm)
Publisher: Hirôka-ya
Literature:  See MFA Boston, Honolulu Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum for other works from this series.
Signature: Chokaro Yoshiiku utsushi