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Utamaro print showing


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Katsukawa Shunkô (勝川春好)


Katsukawa Shunkô's (勝川春好) , whose family name was Kiyokawa and given name Denjirô, was a student of Katsukawa Shunshô (possibly the first). For his earliest known work, Shunkô illustrated the book Kaomise shibai banashi (Talks about debut plays: 顔見世芝居話) in 1766. His first single-sheet print was possibly a hosoban (narrow print: 細判) depicting the actors Ichimura Uzaemon IX as Soga no Gorô and Nakajima Mihoemon II as Asahina Saburô in Wada Sakamori osame no mitsugumi (Wada's carousal: last drink with a set of three cups: 和田酒盛納三組) at the Ichimura-za, Edo in 2/1771. From then on, he designed yakusha-e (actor prints: 役者絵) almost exclusively, although he was also an important designer of sumô-e (wrestler prints: 相撲絵). Otherwise, Shunkô’s oeuvre included a few musha-e (warrior prints: 武者絵) and bijinga (beautiful women prints: 美人画), among them mixed-theme images such as young women with actors or sumô wrestlers.

Shunko kamuri kotoba
Shunkô: Kamuri kotoba Soga no yukari (冠言葉曾我由縁), 1/1776
(L) Sakata Hangorô II as Nanakusa Shirô (?) and (R) and Ichikawa Yaozô II as Soga no Dôzaburô

An early example of a Shunkô hosoban diptych (five years after his debut in hosoban single-sheet design) is shown above. On the left, Sakata Hangorô II (坂田半五郎) performs the role of Nanakusa Shirô (七種四郎) and, on the right, Ichikawa Yaozô II (市川八百蔵) is Soga no Dôzaburô (曽我の団三郎) in the play Kamuri kotoba Soga no yukari (冠言葉曾我由縁) at the Ichimura-za, Edo in 1/1776. This play was one of the many Soga monogatari (Tales about the Soga: 曾我物語) involving two brothers (Soga no Jûrô Sukenari 曽我の十郎祐成 and Soga no Gorô Tokimune 曽我の五郎時宗) hell-bent on avenging their father's murder by Kudô no Suketsune (工藤左衛門祐経). While endlessly elaborated upon in theatrical adaptations, the vendetta was based on an actual historical incident. These Soga jidaimono (lit., "period pieces" or historical dramas: 時代物) were quintessential examples of adauchi mono (revenge plays: 仇打ち物), and were so popular that they were staged annually for kabuki each New Year.

The year 1780 was significant not only in Shunkô's career, but also for the evolution of ukiyo-e. In the eleventh lunar month he produced his first single-sheet ôkubi-e, the type of "large head" design that would prove to be one of the notable achievements in ukiyo-e. (At this time, his teacher Shunshô also deigned a half-length ôban portrait of Ichikawa Danjûrô V as Kudo Suketsune, and earlier, starting in 1775, half-length portraits within fan-shapes on double-aiban sheets.) The sheet size for Shunkô's early ôkubi-e was the aiban (intermediate format: 間判 approx. 330 x 230 mm); eight years would pass before he would reprise ôkubi-e in ôban format. Below, on the left, Ichikawa Danjûrô V (市川國十郎) performs as Kazusa no Gorôbei Tadamitsu (上総五郎兵衛忠光) in Kitekaeru nishiki no wakayaka (Returning home in splendor: 極飜錦壮貌) at the Nakamura-za, Edo in 11/1780. The play concerns, in part, the retired emperor Sutoku (1119-1164; reigned 1123-1141) who schemed to have his son assume the throne. In Shunkô's design, the superstar actor Danjûrô V strikes a traditional mie (climactic pose: 見得), a kata (form: 型) used in kabuki plays when the actor expressed intense emotion or resolution. Below, on the right, Nakamura Nakazô I (中村仲蔵) performs as a Rokubu (六部) pilgrim, in the same staging of the play. Rokujû-Rokubu (六十六部) were pilgrims who traveled to sacred Buddhist sites throughout the 66 provinces, donating at each site their handwritten scrolls with texts from the Lotus Sutra. The Rokubu were a common sight during Tenmei (1764-81), attired in white robes, pants, leggings, and cotton head-cloths. In ukiyo-e, this attire is nearly always altered to robes with color. Both portraits below use the interesting graphic device of placing the figures in lower corners of the pictorial space. The fierceness of the nigao (likenesses: 似顔) are reminiscent of some of the best designs by Shunkô's teacher Shunshô and work to great advantage here as well.

Shunkô tadamitsu Shunkô rokubu pilgrim
Shunkô: Danjûrô V as Kazusa no Gorôbei Tadamitsu
Play: Kitekaeru nishiki no wakayaka, 11/1780 (aiban)
Shunkô: Nakamura Nakazô I as a Rokubu pilgrim
Play: Kitekaeru Nishiki no Wakayaka, 11/1780 (aiban)

Shunkô produced a remarkable series of at least 17 ôkubi-e ("large-head" pictures: 大首絵) in ôban format in 1788 and 1789 that set in motion the widespread production yakusha ôkubi-e by other artists, including Katsukawa Shun'ei, Katsukawa Shun'en, Tôshûsai Sharaku, Utagawa Toyokuni I, and Utagawa Kunimasa in the 1790s. The "large head" form also caught on in the genre of bijinga by such artists as Kitagawa Utamaro, Chôbunsai Eishi, and Eishôsai Chôki. Two of Shunkô's ground-breaking ôban ôkubi-e are shown below. On the left, Sakata Hangorô III (坂田半五郎) performs the role of Ki no Natora (記ノ名虎) in Komachi-mura shibai no shôgatsu (小町村芝居正月), 11/1789 at the Nakamura-za. On the right below, Ichikawa Monnosuke II (市川門之助) is in the role of Soga no Gorô (the Soga play is unidentified). The expressive power of these portraits is characteristic of the entire series. The "large heads" fill the pictorial space, commanding the viewer's attention. In ôban format, the amplitude of the sheet size and the further zooming in on the actor's face has greater impact compared to Shunkô's aiban ôkubi-e of 1780 (see above), whose figures do not fill the picture frame. This leap forward in boldness must have startled the ukiyo-e print consumers of Shunkô time, and it comes as no surprise that a vogue for these brilliant ôban ôkubi-e would last well into the 1790s and beyond as new generations of ukiyo-e artists came onto the scene.

Shunkô kagekiyo Shunkô xxxxxxxx
Shunkô: Sakata Hangorô III as Ki no Natora
Play: Komachi-mura shibai no shôgatsu, 11/1789 (ôban)
Shunkô: Ichikawa Monnosuke II as Soga no Gorô
Play: unidentified, c. 1788-89 (ôban)

Shunkô designed few bijinga, but among them were mixed-theme images, such as the New Year's design shown below left with both actors and young women. Segawa Kikunojô III (瀬川菊之丞) and Ichikawa Monnosuke II (市川門之助) join two geisha on a New Year's outing. The influence of Torii Kiyonaga and Katsukawa Shunchô (勝川春潮) seems evident in Shunkô's depiction of the women. The beauty at the far left holds a red lacquer serving tray, while the shorter woman grips a hagiota (battledore: 羽子板) used to play the game hanetsuki (羽根突き). The paddle is imprinted with a mimasu (three rice measures: 三舛), the crest of the Ichikawa acting lineage. Here, perhaps, the mimasu is meant to signal that the geisha is a fan of Monnosuke II.

Other than yakusha-e, Shunkô's most important work was done in the genre of sumô-e, which he first produced around late 1782 or early 1783. He was fairly prolific in the genre (although not so much as Shun'ei), akthough it is not known exactly how many sumô-e he designed. By one count (Bickford, ref. below), Shunkô and his teacher Shunshô each designed at least 50 sumô prints by 1789. Afterward, Shunkô continued sporadically with wrestler prints, as shown below at the lower right. Three ôzumô rikishi (professional sumô wrestlers: 大相撲力士), named Yatsugamine (八ヶ峯), Onogawa (小野川), and Seimiyama (勢見山), are depicted in private life strolling outside the sumô ring, their massive physiques visible beneath the loose-fitting robes.

Shunkô actor  and geisha Shunkô 3 sumo wrestlers
Shunkô: The actors Kikunojô III and Monnosuke II
with two geisha on a New Year's outing, 1790s
Shunkô: The sumô wrestlers Yatsugamine,
Onogawa, and Seimiyama, 1790s

Shunkô suffered a stroke in early 1790 (possibly in the third month) that deprived him of the use of his right arm. Nevertheless, for a few years he continued to supply print publishers with sketches brushed with his left hand. Finally, he gave up designing prints, probably no later than 1796, and turned exclusively to painting with his left hand. During the period 1790-96, he adopted the (art name or pseudonym: 號) "Saihitsusai" in 1791 and also signed as Rokujûyon sai Shunkô saihitsu ("In my 64th year, Shunkô left brush") in 1796 for illustrations in the book Mimasu kumiireshi (The fitting of three rice measures) by Tatekawa Enba (立川焉馬 1743-1822, also called Utei Enba, 烏亭焉馬). Examples of late hosoban designs by Shunkô are shown below. On the left, Onoe Matsusuke I (尾上松助) performs as the ghost (bôkan, 亡魂) of Ki no Natora (記ノ名虎) in Kiku no en mukashi no miyako (菊ノ宴むかしの都) at the Nakamura-za, 8/1791. On the right, the same Onoe Matsusuke I plays the role of the first Ashikaga shogun, Ashikaga Takauji (足利尊氏), in Matsu wa misao onna kusunoki (Steadfast as the pine tree is the woman of the Kinokuniya clan: 松貞婦女楠) at the Kawarazaki-za, 11/1794. Assuming the dating of these prints is accurate, the two designs coming after the paralytic stroke show little if any diminution of Shunkô's skills as an actor-print designer, despite the loss of function in his right arm. © 1999-2020 by John Fiorillo

Shunkô ki-no-natora Shunkô matsusuke
Shunkô: Onoe Matsusuke I as the ghost of Ki no Natora
Play: Kiku no en mukashi no miyako, 8/1791
Shunkô: Onoe Matsusuke I as Ashikaga Takauji
Play: Matsu wa misao onna kusunoki, 11/1794


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