Ganjôsai Kunihiro (丸丈齋國廣), active c. 1816-41 (or possibly 1815-43) and a leading artist in Osaka, was a pupil of Kyôgadô [Gôgadô] Ashikuni (狂画堂芦國). He seems not to have been a member of the circle of artists headed by another pupil of Ashikuni, Ashigadô Ashiyuki (芦画堂芦幸), and was more likely an independent artist known to have had a brief association with the Edo Utagawa Toyokuni I, although the extent of his tutelage with that Edo master remains obscure.
In Osaka, Kunihiro produced a print at least as early as 3/1816, signing without a forename; only by 9/1821 did he add “Ganjôsai” to his signature for a collaborative work with Kunishige (later called Shigeharu). Early in his career he published with Wataki, Tenki, and others, but from around 1819 until the end of his active period in 1841, he published nearly always with Tenki (Tenmaya Kihei), beginning, perhaps coincidentally, with the return of Nakamura Utaemon III to Osaka, when overall print production in Osaka rose sharply.
Following the death of the superstar actor Arashi Kitsusaburô I (Rikan I) in 9/1821, the leading artists in Osaka issued memorial prints (shini-e and tsuizen-e) commemorating his career and death. Kunihiro retrieved an acclaimed performance from 9/1812 to depict Kitsusaburô as the samurai Nagai Genzaburô disguised as a mendicant monk (komusô), one of the actor’s signature roles, in the play Katakiuchi chikai no shiragarami (Justice and love by the weir, 敵討義戀柵), Kado Theater, Osaka, written expressly for Kitsusaburô I by the playwright Nagawa Harusuke I. Here we see the design serving as a tsuizen-e (memorial portrait, 追善絵) c. 9/1821 (see above image). The unsigned farewell poem has been attributed to Rikan I. Two translations are offered here: Omokage ya / tsuki no nagori no / Koma-ga-ike ("The fame of the moon remains at Komagaike Pond, after the moon has gone") by Keyes and Mizushima, and "His visage lingers / farewell to the moon / above Koma Pond (おもかけや月の名残の駒か池) by Gerstle (see references below).
Periodically, Kamigata publishers issued series featuring the popular summertime costume parades (nerimono) of the urban pleasure quarters and entertainment districts. One of the earliest sets was designed circa 1822 by the visiting Edo artist Yanagawa Shigenobu, titled Osaka Shinmachi nerimono (Costume parade from Shinmachi, Osaka, 大坂新町邌物) numbering at least fourteen prints. Shimanouchi, located just north of the Dôton canal (Dôtonbori) street lined with kabuki theaters, was an unlicensed pleasure district whose nerimono were celebrated in full-color prints (nishiki-e). In 6/1828, Kunihiro, Shigeharu, and Yoshikuni designed prints for a collaborative series, Naniwa Shimanouchi nerimono (Costume parade in the Shimanouchi district, Osaka, 難波嶋の内邌物). These parades afforded artists with opportunities to depict entertainment figures not associated with the kabuki theater, a rather uncommon print genre in Kamigata. The faces were not true likenesses (nigao, 似顔) but stylized renderings, and sometimes hybrids of Edo and Kamigata influences.
Among Kunihiro’s designs for the nerimono series was his deluxe-ôban portrayal of Take of the Matsuruya posing as Fugen Bosatsu or Samantabhadra (Sanskrit; Devanagari), the Bodhisattva who symbolizes practical wisdom in the Buddhist pantheon of deities and immortals see image at right). She is typically shown seated on an elephant and holding a lotus, scepter, or scroll. In Kunihiro's design, Fugen, wearing fine multi-layered robes, stands before a painted image of the elephant that would have been displayed on a parade float or perhaps carried by attendants behind Take as she promenaded.
Kunihiro produced one of his more remarkable prints, a triptych that featured heroes in a spectacular scene, c. 1/1832 (see image below). The imaginary kabuki performance (mitate, 見立) depicts three actors vanquishing a dragon, a work made-to-order (Kunihiro's signature included ôju 應需, by request), carved and printed to achieve the highest standards in printmaking. The fantasy depicted (R) Nakamura Utaemon III as Miiri Yoshimaru (見入由丸), (M) Arashi Rikan II as Hôzô Tarô (宝歳太郎), and (L) Nakamura Matsue III as Iwaimasu-hime (いわ井升姫), possibly for a New Year's production. Even the artisans were given credit: the block carver hori Kuma[zô] (ホリクマ) and the printer suri Yasu (スりヤス). © 2019 by John Fiorillo
- Keyes, R. and Mizushima, K.: Theatrical World of Osaka Prints. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, pp. 80-81, no. 20.
- Matsudaira, Susumu: Kamigata yakusha-e shûsei (Collection of Kamigata actor prints), Vol. II. Osaka: Ikeda Bunko, 1998.
- Nakade, Akifumi: Watakushi no kamigata-e monogatari: nishiki-e hen (The Story of Kamigata Color Prints from My Collection). Osaka: Nakao Shôsendo, 2005.
- Schwaab, Dean: Osaka Prints. New York: Rizzoli, 1989, pp. 78 and 144-45. nos. 35 and 134.