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Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), 1786-1865
Actor Onoe Matsusuke II as Karigane Bunshichi
signed Gototei Kunisada ga, with red artist's seal Sada, censor's seals kiwame and gyoji seal Iwato (Iwatoya Kisaburo), published by Sumimaruya Jinsuke, ca. 1812-14
oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 9 1/2 in., 37.8 by 24 cm
This full-length portrait of an actor pausing jauntily beneath a blossoming tree is undoubtedly part of a multi-panel print. His elegant appearance combined with the hilt of a kendo (bamboo sword) protruding behind his left arm and the small circular cartouche in the foreground, go (5), suggests the figure is a part of a grouping known as the Gonin Otoko (Five Chivalrous Commoners), or, in a more evocative translation, Five Manly Men). This allegiance of five men is found in a number of kabuki plays and would probably be better described as five well-dressed tricksters. Although the Gonin Otoko were based on members of a real gang of criminals and thieves in Osaka (the leader of which was executed in 1747), in their various theatrical manifestations they would also come to the rescue of a commoner in trouble or defend anyone against a government official, especially bullying samurai of the shogun.
The actor and role of this print is clarified with help from the poem slip hanging from the tree to the left which reads Karigane Bunshichi no mitate -?- Onoe Sancho. Karigane Bunshichi is indeed one of the Gonin Otoko, and Sancho is a poetry name of Onoe Matsusuke II (Kikugoro III, 1784-1849). A comparison with the features of a half-lenth portrait of Matsusuke II by Kunisada from the series Yakusha hanjimono (Actor Rebuses) which dates to the same period (ca. 1812) provides convincing support to identify this actor as the same. The word 'mitate' indicates that it is Matsusuke II imagined as Bunshichi, without a direct connection to a performance.
Another sheet (numbered 2) in the collection of Waseda with the same background, signature, seals and poem slip must be another panel from the set and provides the identity of the publisher with the seal Sumi (Sumimaruya Jinsuke). It depicts Ichikawa Danjuro VII (identified by his poem name of Sansho) as Agemaki no Sukeroku, a famous ne'er-do-well dandy who is the subject of his own group of plays.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, mfa.org, accession no. 11.42325
Waseda University Theater Museum, enpaku.waseda.ac.jp, accession no. 100-2490