Gatôken Shunshi (画登軒春芝 act. c. 1823-1835) was a pupil of Shunkôsai Hokushû. He is listed as an actor portraitist on the single-sheet broadside Naniwa shoryû gajin meika annai ("Guide to the many famous contemporary artists of Osaka": 浪華諸流画人名家案内) circa 1831, where he is identified as Tôryûken Shunshi (登龍軒春芝) and his Osaka address as Futatsuido.
Shunshi's best work was in the ôban ôkubi-e ("large, big-head prints": 大判 大首絵) or bust portrait mode. Gatôken Shunshi often depicted the actor Tamizô II, including some fine compositions in the 1820s. These portrayals represent, on a percentage basis, one of the more dedicated and focused efforts in actor portraiture on the part of an Osaka print designer during the nineteenth century. The example shown above depicts Onoe Tamizô II (二代 尾上多見蔵 1799-1886) as Shirai Saijirô (白井才次郎 actually Shirai Gonpachi 白井権八) in Futatsu mon kuruwa no nishiki-e (Brocade print of two crests in the pleasure quarters: 双紋郭錦絵), c. late 1823-early 1824. The real-life samurai Gonpachi, guilty of murder and robbery, was executed in 1679, after which his notoriety spread in plays and oral storytelling. Futatsu mon kuruwa tells the tale of tragic lovers, Komurasaki and Gonpachi. When he fails to raise the money needed to ransom his beloved from her servitude as a courtesan in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter, he turns to a life of debauchery, while supporting himself through crime. After Gonpachi is finally captured and executed, the devoted Komurasaki takes her life at his grave.
Images of actors offstage were endlessly fascinating to kabuki fans who idolized their favorite actors. They also yearned to collect intimate views of these cultural and entertainment icons, coveting not only scenes from performances, but also the much rarer images of actors backstage, either preparing for, or resting after, a performance. Views of actors on outings away from the theaters, including picnicking or visiting temples and shrines, were also very popular. In the ôkubi-e shown above, Gatôken Shunshi's favorite actor, Onoe Tamizô II, is once again the subject of a design, in this case, one of the rare backstage views of an actor reflected in a dressing mirror.
Gatôken Shunshi was usually less impressive in his full-length portraits, although they are not without merit. In the portrayal shown below, Onoe Tamizô II is shown striking a dynamic pose on the stairs of temple(?) while performing as yakko (servant) Hyakudohei (奴百度平) in an unidentified play and theater in Osaka. Here, Tamizô's head is too small in relation to the limbs, especially the right leg. As many ukiyo-e artists did not have the benefit of serious study of anatomy, it should not surprise observers today that there would be instances such as this where the proportions of the human form are inaccurate. Even so, the design overall is a success, with the pose taut and expressive, and the colors brilliant in this finely preserved impression.
Gatôken Shunshi should not be confused with at least three other artists of the period also signing as "Shunshi" whose writing of the second character, shi, differed in all instances. Two of these print designers were pupils of Gatôken Shunshi: Gakôken Shunshi (画好軒春枝 act. c. 1824-29) and Shunshi (春始 act. c. 1830s). The third artist was a pupil of Hokushû: Shunyôsai Shunshi (春陽齋春子 act. c. 1820–28 also called Seiyôsai Shunshi, 青陽齋春子 and Seiyôdô Shunshi, 青陽堂春子).
Gatôken Shunshi's Names
Art names (geimei):
Art pseudonyms (gô):
Pupils of Gatôken Shunshi
Gashôken Shunpô (画照軒春峰 act. mid-1820s)
© 2021 by John Fiorillo