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Torii Kotondo (1900-1976)
Signboard for Hashi Benkei
e-kanban, ink and color on paper, signed Kiyotada hitsu, post-1941, likely ca. 1971 or 1975
painting 58 1/4 by 37 in., 148 by 94 cm
framed 60 x 41 1/2 inches, 155 x 105 cm
The large hand-painted e-kanban (signboard) advertises the popular dance program, Hashi Benkei, which acts out the famous story of Ushiwakamaru (Yoshitsune) defeating the much larger Benkei and thereby winning his everlasting loyalty. Without any text identifying the name of the piece, the image of the burly Benkei and the lithe Ushiwakamaru (often airborne) in the midst of their battle on the Gojo Bridge would be immediately recognizable to the theater-going public. Hashi Benkei has been staged so frequently it is impossible to identify exactly which production this may relate to.
Although Kotondo is well-known for his woodblock prints depicting beauties, his lineage is with the Torii school-- the family of artists that have been contracted to produce billboards and promotional materials for the kabuki theaters going back to Osaka in the 17th century. After his father, Kiyotada IV (1875-1941), retired as the 7th head of the Torii school in 1929, Kotondo became the 8th head. The Kiyotada signature on this painting is nearly identical to the one found on a shini-e (memorial print) by Kotondo from 1941 commemorating the nagauta singer Yoshimura Ijuro VI (1859-1935). However, during that period another Torii artist, Tadamasa (1904–1970), was known to design signboards for the kabuki theater, up until the year of his death. As such, it is likely this signboard was painted by Kotondo either for the April 1971 production of Hashi Benkei at the Kabukiza (with Onoe Shoroku II as Benkei and Kataoka Gado V as Ushiwakamaru), or the July 1975 Kabukiza production (with Ichikawa Kodayu II as Benkei and Ichikawa Danshiro IV as Ushiwakamaru).
Paul Binnie Collection
Andreas Marks, Seven Masters: 20th Century Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Wells Collection, pp. 185-189, and fig. 5 (1941 shini-e)