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Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), 1786-1865
Kabuki Actors Enjoying the Evening Cool
each sheet signed Gototei Kunisada ga, with publisher's mark, Matsu (Matsumura Tatsuemon), and censor's seal kiwame (approved); the right sheet also marked dai go (no. 5), the middle sheet marked chu (middle) and the left sheet marked dai ju (no. 10), ca. 1822-25
oban tate-e triptych 14 5/8 by 30 1/2 in., 37 by 77.5 cm
An interesting gathering of actors, young and old, taking in the evening cool beside a meandering stream beneath unusual dark bands of clouds. They all wear stylish lightweight (and slightly diaphanous) cotton yukata, some open slightly at the legs to allow a bit of ventilation. Each carries a fan and has a towel draped over their shoulders or at the neck, likely already dampened with water from the stream to provide additional relief from the heat. It seems to be a sort-of 'boys' night out' for the actors- a tempting image for a kabuki fan who could fantasize about running into their idols along the Sumida River.
The actors are identified from left (by their stage names at the time), Bando Shinsui (the retired Bando Hikosaburo III, 1754-1828), Ichimura Uzaemon (Ichimura Uzaemon XII, 1812-1851), Matsumoto Kinsho (Matsumoto Koshiro V, 1764-1838), Mimasu Kikaku (Mimasu Gennosuke I, 1798-1859), Ichikawa Komazo (Ichikawa Komazo V, 1812-1849) and Seki Kazan (Seki Sanjuro II, 1786-1839).
The print can be dated in part by the names of the child actors. The young actor on the right, Ichimura Uzaemon XII took the name Uzaemon in 1821 when the predecessor, Uzaemon XI died at the age of 29. Komazu V took his name in 1817. Both appear to be approximately the same age, and the print must date after 1821, but it wouldn't be much later before the young men would shave their forelocks and progress into adult roles, which took place as early as their mid-teens.
The non-consecutive numbering on this triptych indicates that these three panels are part of a larger (as yet unidentified) polyptych. Three unnumbered sheets in the collection of the Museum Volkenkunde (The National Museum of Ethnology, accession numbers 1455-29a, 1455-29b, 1455-29c) in Leiden have a similar composition of actors with the same distinctive stylized black cloud bands above a stream. However, the background in the Leiden prints has a continuous, uninterrupted design suggesting more panels must be located in order to correctly connect the composition.