THEATRICAL PRINTS AND THEIR DESIGNERS
Close Association of Actors and Artists – Their Position in Society – Memorial Portraits – The Torii School – Okumura Masanobu and his School – The Nishimura School – Prints depicting Theatre Interiors.
WE have already alluded to the close affinity that existed between popular art and popular drama in Japan. So much so was this the case that artists and actors often worked together in collaboration, the latter seeking advice in the matter of correct design in their costumes, such advice being treated as law. This was particularly the case from the year 1800 onwards, and this intimacy between actor and artist became closer as time went on, lasting right up to the extinction of the Ukiyoye school with the death of Yoshitoshi in 1892.
As an illustration of this close collaboration we need only refer to the well-known story of the actor Baiko who visited Hokusai in order to persuade him to accept a commission for the design of a ghost picture, the impersonation of ghosts being Baiko's particular forte.
This story, which is too well known to make it necessary to repeat it, also serves to illustrate the low social position in which actors as a class were held even in the estimation of the artists, who were themselves, by reason of their association with the theatre, considered almost at the lowest rung of the social ladder.
Shunsho, indeed, the leading actor-painter of his day, and one of the best-known artists of Ukiyoye, states in the preface to a book of actor- portraits that, though he loved the theatre and enjoyed being a spectator thereof, he would have no intercourse with the actors themselves and declined to make their acquaintance.
Even until the beginning of this century actors were still regarded as, on the whole, outside the pale of decent society, even if they were no longer considered rogues and vagabonds, and it is only during quite recent times that this prejudice against them has been overcome, due largely, no doubt, to contact with the outer world.
On the stage, however, the chief actors, such as those who bore the names of Danjuro, Hanshiro, Kikugoro, or other
famous actor-clans, were idolized by the populace, while their portraits, in their favourite characters, sold by
thousands, and were in as much demand as those of the accomplished beauties of the Yoshiwara. The stage and the
green-houses in fact practically monopolized between them the activities of the artists of Ukiyoye
till the advent of Hiroshige's landscapes.
On the death of a favourite actor his memorial portrait was published, representing him in the attitude of a
Buddha, with his head shaved, and clad in the pale blue robe of a priest. A short biography is generally added,
giving his age, date of his death, his private and posthumous names, the chief parts in which he acted, and so
forth. It is probable, however, that these memorial prints were issued only for private circulation amongst his
more personal friends and acquaintances, as they are not at all common, particularly when compared with portraits
of actors in character which were bought by the public at large; such examples of memorial prints as have come
under notice have been few in number, and generally of a date after 1820. They were called Shi-ni-ye
A good example of a memorial portrait is illustrated at Plate 37, page 228, showing the actor Nakamura Utayemon dressed as a priest and holding a rosary in his hand. Under the outer pale blue robe he wears a purple garment. The inscription states that he died on the seventeenth day of the second month, in the fifth year of the Kayei period, that is 1852.
Memorial portraits do not always represent an actor dressed as a priest as in the example here illustrated; sometimes he is shown in the character in which he made his name on the stage, or which he made famous by his impersonation. Again, more than one actor will sometimes be shown on the same memorial print, or the same actor in different characters.
An unusual kind of actor-memorial print is one in the British Museum collection in the form of a large surimono by Kiyomine. It represents Danjuro the first in the character of a warrior, and the text thereon states that it is published by Danjuro the seventh and his son, Danjuro the eighth, to celebrate the one hundred and eighty-second year of the continuance of the Danjuro clan. It is dated the third month of the year 1832, and a list of eighteen plays with which the Danjuros were specially associated is also given.
In the same way we find memorial prints of artists sometimes issued, designed either by one of their pupils or by a fellow-artist from the same studio. One of the best known of these is Kunisada's portrait of Hiroshige, and is undoubtedly Kunisada's best work in figure-studies, and would be a notable example in portraiture by any artist. (See pages 53, 54.)
Kuniyoshi's portrait was drawn by two of his pupils, Yoshi-iku and Yoshitomi; Kunisada's by Kunichika (diptych); and Toyokuni's by Kunisada.
At Plate 34, page 210, is illustrated a rare memorial print (c. 1790) of the publisher YEIJUDO (Nishimura Yohachi),
by TOYOKUNI, issued for private circulation amongst his friends, and therefore limited in the number of copies
printed. He is shown seated on his bed in green and wine-coloured robes on which is embroidered his monogram Ju,
reading an open book on a stand. Round the bed is a two-fold screen on which is painted a falcon, Mount Fuji, and a
red sun, and in the left- hand corner an egg-plant bearing fruit. Above the plant is written
second a falcon, third an egg-plant fruit, three lucky dream emblems.
In the bottom left-hand corner of the print is the inscription Shichi-ju-ichi-o-kina
the 71 years old man) Yeijudo Hibino (the latter his family name.)
Yeijudo was the leading print-publisher of his day, the bulk of the work by all the most famous artists of Ukiyoye being issued by him.
Three schools are prominent in Ukiyoye as exponents of the theatrical print, the Torii, Katsukawa, and Utagawa. Certain artists of other subschools and independent artists portrayed scenes from the drama, but eschewed actor-portraiture as such.
The theatrical print had its origin in the large posters displayed outside the theatres as advertisements of the play, and their first appearance in Yedo is attributed to Torii Kiyomoto, said to have been both an actor and designer of posters and play-bills, who came thither from Osaka at the close of the seventeenth century. No prints by him, however, are in existence to-day.
Kiyomoto, therefore, may be regarded as the virtual founder of the Torii school, while his son KIYONOBU (1664-1729) was the actual founder. His were the first of the immense number of theatrical prints which were to exercise the talent of so many successive artists, and which raised the level of actor-portraiture to the position of a permanent subject for the wood-engraver, an art which came to be looked upon as the special prerogative of the Torii school throughout the whole of its career.
The second master of the Torii school was Kiyomasu (C. 1679-1762). The date of his birth is uncertain, some authorities putting it at 1702, others earlier at 1679. Fie was therefore either the son or the younger brother of the first Torii, according as to which of these two dates is accepted. Yon Seidlitz mentions a play-bill of the Nakamura theatre by him, dated 1693, and also that he produced illustrated books in 1703 and 1712.
This evidence supports the theory that the first two Torii were brothers, unless Kiyomasu was unusually precocious, though as far as the evidence of the play-bill goes, it is possible that this was only a commemorative advertisement of the theatre as it appeared at its opening in 1693, but published several years later.
The probability, however, is that Kiyomasu was a brother, as much of their work was contemporaneous, and bears such resemblance that without the clue of signature its origin would often be difficult to determine.
On the death of Kiyonobu, Kiyomasu became head of the Torii school and carried on its traditions.
In Kiyomasu and Kiyonobu II the two-colour print (in rose-red and green) reached its zenith, and a particularly fine example by the former is illustrated in colours at Plate G, page 204. As its date can be fixed through the characters represented at about 1745, it must be an unusually early example coloured wholly from blocks, 1743 being the earliest date generally assigned to the invention of this process of colouring.
Next we come to Kiyonobu II (w. 1740-1755), who worked contemporaneously with Kiyomasu, and was therefore not one
of the heads of the Torii school. He consequently signs himself Kiyonobu only, in distinction to the founder who
signed in full Torii Kiyonobu. Kiyomasu and Kiyonobu worked during the best period of the two-colour print,
and all such prints signed Kiyonobu are by the second of this name, as the first died some twelve years before
the process was invented. Mr. Laurence Binyon devotes an article in his introduction to the catalogue of the
collection of Japanese and Chinese Woodcuts in the British Museum in discussing the question,
Was there a second
Kiyonobu? and presents the reader with five different hypotheses as possible answers thereto. The position of
Kiyonobu II in the Torii school is certainly not at all clear, but we may set out the following facts about him
as fairly well established:
I. He designed both hand-coloured and block-coloured prints.
II. He took up print-designing where the first Kiyonobu left off, though there is a gap of a few years between them, and is identical with him in style, a style, however, which undergoes changes in course of time, as does the work of practically all Ukiyoye artists.
III. He signs himself Kiyonobu only.
What does, however, appear uncertain about Kiyonobu II is his relationship to Kiyonobu and Kiyomasu, as different authorities state him either to be the third son of the former, or a son of Kiyomasu, which would make him a nephew of Kiyonobu.[Addendum]
The third head of the Torii school was KIYOMITSU (1735-1785), son of Kiyomasu. His work forms the connecting link between the two and three- colour print, and he is credited with having been the first artist to add a third colour-block (greyish-blue) to the original two. He also introduced the practice of overprinting one colour on to another; thus his green is often the result of printing blue over yellow, and purple from blue over red.
Kiyomitsu lived well into the polychrome period of Harunobu, but he appears to have retired from active work on the appearance of the latter; perhaps popularity forsook him under the ascendency of Harunobu's dainty women. Though Kiyomitsu carried on the traditions of the Torii school in its connection with the theatre, we find him also designing figure- studies of women, but his actors predominate.
Kiyohiro (w. 1750-1766) was another pupil of Kiyomasu – possibly a son according to some authorities – but little is known about him. Practically all his known prints are in two colours only.
We now come to Torii KIYONAGA (1742-1815), the fourth and greatest master of his line, a pupil of Kiyomitsu, though not of the Torii family. While a pupil he worked in the manner of his master in the accepted Torii tradition, but early in his career he broke away entirely from actor-portraiture, and made his fame in the representation of beautiful women, changing thereby the whole face of Ukiyoye by the influence of his powerful drawing, and bringing under his spell every contemporary artist to a greater or less degree, an influence which lasted until his retirement about 1790, when Utamaro rose into ascendency. Towards the close of his career, however, he reverted to the Torii tradition with a series of theatrical scenes of actors in character and musicians seated behind. These prints have been very closely imitated by Shuncho.
A good example from this series is here illustrated in colours at Plate G, page 204 and represents scenes from
two different plays. The two standing figures are characters from Ashia-doman Ouchi Kagami Abe-no-Yusuna
(a fanciful title, difficult of translation), the one with the fan and branch of bamboo over his shoulder being
the actor Ichikawa Yaozo as Abe-no-Yasuna Kioran, or the
dancing-mad Yasuna; the other his wife, Kuzunoha,
represented by Segawa Kikunojo. The two figures in foreground are Ichikawa Monnosuke (right) and Sawamura Sojuro
(left) as the two wrestlers Nuregami Chogoro and Hanaregoma Chokichi.
KIYOMINE (1796-1868), grandson of Kiyomitsu and pupil of Kiyonaga, was the fifth and practically the last head of the Torii school. Like those of Kiyonaga, however, his prints, which are uncommon, are mostly representations of women, though he produced copies of theatrical prints by Kiyonobu and Kiyomasu. Towards the end of his career he signed Kiyomitsu.
Other artists of the Torii school who followed its traditions in actor- portraiture are the following:–
Kiyotsune (w. 1764-1770), pupil of Kiyomitsu;
Kiyotada (c. 1715-1740), pupil of Kiyonobu; and
Kiyoshige (c. 1720-1760), another pupil of Kiyonobu.
The work of all these artists is very rare.
Before turning our attention to the next great school of actor-portraiture – the Katsukawa – we should here mention an independent artist, Okumura Masanobu (C. 1685-1768), who founded the Okumura school which existed alongside the Torii school.
Though such of his work as has survived to our day – his prints being very scarce – is largely composed of studies of women engaged in various occupations or pastimes, and popular beauties, he did not shun the theatre altogether as did some artists, like Harunobu (in his maturity) and Utamaro for example, who preferred to devote their energies solely to the portrayal of feminine beauty.
In addition to a few actor-portraits, Masanobu has left us interesting prints showing the internal arrangements of a theatre with a play in progress. Two such prints are in the British Museum collection, both hand- coloured.
One shows a scene from the play
Dojoji, in which appears the actor Segawa Kikunojo in the character of
Kiyohime, the heroine of the play, approaching the stage along the hana-michi, or
On the stage itself are two other actors as monks, sitting under the great bell of the temple. Behind them is the
entrance to the temple represented by a gate in bamboo wicker-work. On the margin of the print is an inscription
Original publisher of perspective theatre-pictures, which may refer either to Masanobu's
claim to be the first artist to introduce the ideas of European perspective into Japanese pictures, or it may
original in the sense of
genuine, as his work, which was very successful in its day, was
forged and copied by others.
The play of
Dojoji here represented was a very favourite one with the kabuki-shibai. It is
founded on the story of Kiyohime, the beautiful daughter of a tea-house proprietor. This tea-house stood on
the bank of the Hidaka River; on the opposite bank was the Dojoji Temple. A certain monk, Anchin, on his
return to the temple from a pilgrimage to the shrine of Kumano, stopped at the tea-house, contrary to the
rules of his monastery which forbade its priests from drinking sake or visiting tea-houses. Anchin, however,
became infatuated with the charms of Kiyohime, and crossed the river from the monastery to visit the
tea-house several nights in succession. She returned his love with even greater passion, but the monk at last,
remembering his priestly calling, succeeded in smothering his unholy desires, at the same time exhorting Kiyohime
to do likewise. Her passion, however, only increased the more as that of the priest's waned, until his continued
refusals to reciprocate her love changed it into an equally fierce hatred. Kiyohime thereupon called in the aid
of the infernal deities against Anchin, but his fervent prayers to Buddha preserved him from harm, though they
did not prevent the enraged woman from pursuing him right into the sacred precincts of the temple itself where,
in order to escape her, Anchin hid himself in the great bell, which weighed many tons. At the same moment,
Kiyohime, by the power of the infernal magic which she had invoked in her passion for revenge, suddenly
changed into the form of a dragon-serpent, and threw herself on to the belfry which crashed down under her
weight, imprisoning the wretched priest inside the bell. Kiyohime embraced the bell in her serpent's coils;
tighter and tighter grew her embrace, till the metal became red-hot. In vain were the prayers of Anchin and
his fellow-monks who stood round horrified at the spectacle; the bell finally became white-hot and ran down
in a pool of molten metal, destroying together both Anchin and the serpent that once had been the beautiful Kiyohime.
The other print by Masanobu of the interior of a theatre is a very large one measuring 17¼x25¼ in.,
or a little larger than the very similar print by Toyoharu which is 15 x 20½, and which we illustrate at
Plate 34. The subject also is the same, a scene from the play of the
Revenge of the Soga Brothers.
In the print by Masanobu the principal actor is Ichikawa Yebizo, in the character of Soga-no-Goro, sharpening an
arrow, doubtless intended for his enemy Suketsune. At the left is shown the joruri-chanter accompanied by a
samisen player, and on one of the pillars is an interesting notice setting forth the price of admission,
16 mon (about 4d.).
Soga Brothers' Revenge was another very popular drama. Two brothers, Juro Sukenari and Goro Tokimune,
sought to avenge the murder of their father, Kawazu Sukeyasu, by Kudo Suketsune, when they were but children of
five and three years of age. Their opportunity came when Suketsune accompanied Yoritomo on a hunting expedition
to Mount Fuji. Entering the camp at night while a fierce storm was raging, they found their way to Suketsune's
tent, and killed their man. Instead of making good their escape, they proclaimed their deed aloud and fought
Suketsune's retainers. Sukenari was killed, but his brother Goro fought his way to Yoritomo's tent, when he
was tripped up from behind (an incident often illustrated in prints) by Goromaru, a retainer disguised as
a woman. Goro was taken before Yoritomo who, on account of his youth, would have spared his life, but he could
not refuse justice to Suketsune's son, and Goro was executed.
There is another dramatized story dealing with these two brothers, called the
Reprieve of the Soga Children.
Some years after the murder of their father, Suketsune appealed to Yoritomo, on the pretence that the two brothers
would one day try and murder the Shogun, who had killed their grandfather. Yoritomo believed this story,
and ordered them to be executed on the beach at Yuigahama. However, at the last minute they were reprieved
on account of their tender years. This incident has been illustrated by Hiroshige amongst other artists.
The best of Masanobu's pupils was his son TOSHINOBU (c. 1750), who is said to have died young. His prints are very rare; two examples appear in the British Museum collection, both hand-coloured, one of them being representations of actors. Yon Seidlitz illustrates a print by him from the Bing collection, Paris, showing the actor Segawa Kikunojo as a woman- dancer in a shower of gold coins.
Another small but important school of artists was the Nishimura, founded by Nishimura SHIGENOBU (w. 1728-1740), who produced some actor-prints in the Torii manner. Very little of his work exists to-day; he is represented in the British Museum collection by a hand-coloured print of two actors as samurai.
He was followed by his pupil (perhaps also his son) SHINEGAGA (1647- 1756), who designed studies of women as well as actors. The same can be said of Ishikawa TOYONOBU (17x1-1785), pupil of Shinegaga. Other artists of this school, such as the famous Harunobu and Koriusai, both pupils of Shinegaga, eschewed actor-prints.
Shinegaga also designed prints showing the interior of a theatre, similar to that by Masanobu described above.
One such is before us as we write; unfortunately its condition is too worn to reproduce well as an illustration.
It shows the interior of the Ichimura Theatre, with a scene from the play
Miss Shichi, the Greengrocer's Daughter.
Occupying the stage, on which is set out a vegetable stall, is O-Shichi; in front of her kneels her lover who turns
his head in the direction of the
flower-walk, along which another actor, in the character of an eta
woman (or wandering minstrel called tori-oi), is approaching, his entry being announced by the kojo
(an official of the theatre for which we have no proper equivalent) on the left of the stage, who holds up a fan.
The play of Miss Shichi, written in 1704 by the playwright Ki-no-Kaion (1663-1723), was another favourite in the kabuki-shibai, and was first staged in Yedo in 1707. Yawo-ya O-Shichi was the daughter of a greengrocer whose house was accidentally burnt down. Being thus deprived of a home until it should be rebuilt, she was sent as a dancer to the Kichi-join Temple, where she fell in love with one of the acolytes. In despair at being parted from her lover when her new home was ready to receive her, she purposely set fire to it, hoping thereby she would be sent back to the temple again. She was, however, detected in the act, and was publicly condemned to death by burning.
The three examples of hand-coloured prints depicting the interior of the kabuki-shibai which we have mentioned above, are interesting not only from the subject illustrated, but because they must be amongst the earliest of this type of print, as the artists of the Primitive period (so-called) did not, as a rule, go beyond actor-portraiture for their subjects. The character of the theatrical print did not alter much until the arrival of the Katsukawa and Utagawa schools, when their scope wras considerably enlarged.
We reproduce at Plate 34 a particularly fine print (size 20½x 15 on one sheet) of a theatre interior, by Utagawa TOYOHARU (1733-1814), founder of the Utagawa school. This is printed in green and two shades of tan, and shows the whole building from pit to roof and practically its whole length; the prints described above show only the stage and immediate surroundings.
The play being acted is a scene from the
Soga Brothers' Revenge, an account of which we have already given.
In the centre of the
flower- walk is the principal actor, Ichikawa Danjuro in the character of Soga-no-Goro,
while seated in the centre of the stage is Yoritomo. From the roof hang lanterns on which appear the crests of
all the leading actors, some of whom we can identify (besides the central figure of Danjuro) amongst the crowd
on the stage; for example, Nakamura Sukegoro, Sakata Hangoro, Iwai Hanshiro and Segawa Kikunojo (both in female
character), Ichikawa Yaozo as Yoritomo, and others. Evidently the management had succeeded in procuring all
stars in the theatrical firmament for the production of this play. The title on the right-hand
Perspective View of a Dramatic Performance at the Three Theatres, signed Utagawa Toyoharu.
On a large banner hung from the roof over the stage are the characters
Great Success. On one side is the
curtain which is drawn across the front of the stage at the end of an act.
At Plate 37, page 228, we reproduce a theatre interior by Hiroshige
(very rare, early work), ordinary full-size sheet, showing a scene from the same play. On the
(left) are the two Soga Brothers conferring together. Sitting on the stage on a yellow stand (right) is
Kudo Suket-sune, and opposite, second from left, is Asahina Saburo, famous for his feats of strength.
The scene is apparently laid at the house of Oiso-no-Tora (figure in centre of stage holding a wooden stand on which is a cup), who was mistress of Soga-no-Juro. Juro is feasting at her house in company with Saburo and Hatakeyama Shigetada, the latter being the highest personage present. Tora, however, hands the loving-cup to her lover first, instead of to Shigetada, who is incensed at this lack of courtesy and vows vengeance. Goro, however, who is close at hand, is suddenly apprehensive that his brother is being attacked, and rushes to his assistance. As he opens the door, Asahina seizes him and tries to drag him in forcibly, but Goro stands his ground, and in the struggle Asahina wrenches off part of the armour he is wearing, an incident often portrayed in prints.
The three large characters on the curtain above the stage (hi-i-ki) signify
that it is a benefit performance in favour of the principal actor.