17th century Japan gave birth to many exciting new art forms, including Kabuki Theatre and a woodblock print art known as ukiyo-e. Kabuki’s expressive acting styles and bold, colorful costumes and makeup provided wonderful subject matter for ukiyo-e prints. Between the end of the 17th century and the end of the 19th century, many thousands of ukiyo-e prints illustrating a variety of subjects, including women, nature and heroic warriors, were produced, but almost half of all prints were â€œyakusha-eâ€: portraits of kabuki actors or scenes from kabuki plays.
The affordable, popular art helped to increase the fame of the actors and the star status of the actors fueled print sales. Some of the most celebrated actors came from the Danjuro family. In fact, Ichikawa Danjuro I (1660-1704) is the subject of the earliest known actor print. Through the years artists introduced innovations in printing techniques, formats, and designs. Meanwhile, the celebrity status of the actors continued to grow.
The subject of the current exhibition is Ichikawa Danjuro IX (1838-1903). His career coincided with the last great period of Ukiyo-e art, and he was a favorite subject of Kunichika (1835-1900), the greatest yakusha-e artist of the period. This talk will trace the development of actor prints from the end of the 17th century through to the wonderfully crafted, deluxe, bold and expressive portraits of Ichikawa Danjuro IX created at the end of the 19th century.