Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)

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Kunisada signed half-length actor prints

last updated:

new pictures: 10/21

On this site you will find around 300 Kunisada signed half-length actor prints designed between 1812 and 1842. Most of the okubi-e were done in ōban format but also included are half-length actors as fan prints (uchiwa-e and ogi-e) and also close-up (ogao-e) head portraits always executed as multi portrait prints (four, six, eight or nine actor heads on one ōban sheet). These 300 prints were published in 40 series and a very few single prints.

Mr. Ellis Tinios was the first who examined this section of Kunisada's work. Up to early 2006 he found around 230 single prints and idendified 31 series/sets of half-length actor prints. He lists only single and double half-length actor portraits in ōban format. From this kind of prints I do have only around 190 in my catalogue, so Mr. Tinios's list is much more comprehensive than mine.
Both lists (those of Mr. Tinios and mine) are not identical. I didn't yet find images from around 50 prints mentioned by Mr. Tinios. So I have 50 not included in his list which makes a total of around 280 Kunisada half-length actor prints.
From this amount the 25 fan prints should be reduced, so that c. 255 ōban half-length actors prints remain (including the mulitple prints). Most probably this makes 80-90 % of Kunisada's okubi-e production before the Tenpō reforms in 1842. If fan prints would be included it is most probably that the amount is as twice as high. It seems that around 25% of the fan production are half-length actors, but nobody can say how many fans Kunisada designed, most of them are destroyed by using them and only around 200 Kunisada signed fan prints are recorded.
In relationship to Kunisada's total output of actor prints (kabuki prints, figure actor and half-length actor portraits) before 1844 the okubi-e prints represent only 3-5 % of his work*. The public demand and/or the demand of the publishers for this kind of prints has not been overwhelming but Kunisada seems to have been the onliest ukiyo-e artist during this time who at all designed a worth mentioning amount of okubi-e. Officially the production of okubi-e of actors, courtesans and other members of 'floating world' were forbidden since 1800, so Kunisada and his publishers have been forced to bypass the law with designing half-length actors (which are not true okubi-e), 'battledores', 'incense boxes', 'mirrors' and other items decorated with large actor heads. I do not known whether the ban of law only prohibited okubi-e in ōban format but obviously not otherwise the multiple prints would have been illegal.
*: The database of the Waseda University lists around 1.950 different Kunisada signed yakusha-e desings, representing 3.550 sheets [from a total number of around 5.050, but lots of numbers are double and triple copies]. My catalogue contains c. 1.200 additional desgins with c. 1.850 sheets. In total this makes 3.150 designs and 5.400 sheets and could be estimated to represent 50-60 % of all Kunisada actor prints.

Prints and series are given in chronological order. An empty space ("no image") indicates missing images which are included in Mr. Tinios' catalogue.

For some prints I do have only bad files. Sorry but for this case the bad files are better than nothing.

If you have matching informations and files or better files please let me know and send them to: horstgraebner@kunisada.de


Actor puzzles (1812)

untitled: actors reflected in mirror against a tree branch (1815)

untitled: two okubi-e in circular field against a ground of mon (1813)
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Great Performances (1815-16)
exceptionally shown are prints from a Kunisada book entitled "O-atari Kyogen no uchi" because they are matching with the subject (the images are not counted in the amount of half-length actor prints)
prints from a second book in the same style (title unknown), attributed to Kunisada
untitled: actors in roles from the play Kanadehon Chushingura (1816)
no series (?) (1815,1816 and 1818)

untitled: actors with their poems, pub. Yamaguchiya Tobei (1818)

untitled: actors in roles from the play Sukeroku yukari no Edo zakura (1819)
no series (?) (c. 1820, 1821)

untitled: actors with poems, on pink ground with poem in green (1820)
untitled: actors with transcription of their roles (1822)

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unread: 3 half-length actors with poem (1822)

untitled: actors with text above (1823)
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Great Performances: Contemporary Pressed-Cloth Battledores (1823)
Famous actors in fan design (1824)

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unknown title: eight ogao-e on one sheet (c.1825)
no series (?) (1825)

untitled: actors with their poem (1826)
no series (?) (1826)

Modern actors calligraphy copybook (1827)

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no series (?) (1827)
no series (?) (1828)

untitled: Actors with transcription of their roles (1828)

Imagined playes (1828)

The flower of Edo - the five Karigane blood-brothers (1829)
no series (?) (c. 1829)
no series (?) (c. 1830)

some book prints from around 1830 (title unknown), attributed to Kunisada
untitled: actors with their poem (1831)


untitled set of half-length actors, pub. by Ōmiya Heihachi (1831)

untitled: actors and their own poems from the play Sugawara denju tenarai kagami (1831)
untitled: Mitate half-length actors sponsored by Sakamoto (1831)
no series (?) (c. 1831, 1832)

untitled: half-length actors, square format (1832)

unknown/untitled: four okubi-e on an ōban (1832)
1000 shrines visited (1832)

jap. title "Fuji Tsukuba Aiaigasa" (1832)
untitled: set of actor portraits reflected in mirrors (1827-33)

click on the link to see the complete series

An imagined confrontation of the three theatres (1832)
A modern "Five Chivalrous Men" (1833)
Actors - modern round fans (1833)

Auspicious plays (1833)
A mitate Taimen of an Osaka Spring (1835)

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untitled: actors in the play "Sugawara denju tenarai kagami" (1835)

untitled: half-length actors (fan), background with framed painting (c.1835)

untitled set of half-length actors with kimono fabric in background (c.1835)

no series (?) (c. 1833, 1835)
untitled: half-length actors, sig. in gourd-cartouche (1836)
untitled: half-length actors with poem, names and roles in cartouche (1836)
no series (1836)

untitled: actors in the play Suda haru geisha katagi (1838)
Mirror of actors in the present time (1838)
Modern actors - incense boxes (1838)

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no series (1838) / half-length actor portraits on battledoor with actor mon

untitled set of five okubi-e in different cartouches (1841/42)
Actors - full house sake cups (1840)

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no series (?) (c. 1840)

untitled set of six ogao-e in mirror (1841)
untitled: actors with their poem (1840)



Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) - series and prints