Actor in a Chinese Opera
(Shina shibai seichu den hoshi)
with karazuri ('blind printing') on the large white tassel dangling from his headpiece, with artist's seal Toyonari on the lower left margin, self-published via the Yamamura Koka Hanga Kankokai, ca. 1924
dai oban tate-e 15 3/4 by 10 7/8 in., 40.1 by 27.6 cm
In 1924 Toyonari self-published (with the support of the Publication Society of Yamamura Koka's Prints) a group of ten prints that expanded his range beyond kabuki portraits with an untitled set that included images of beauties, landscapes, still-life, and bird-and-flower subjects. The only actor in the group is not a kabuki actor, but this striking portrait of a Chinese actor. The compositions utilized bold colorization and emphasized the aesthetics of woodblock printing with embellishments such as the karazuri ('blind printing') used on the actor's tassles.
The subject was likely inspired by a perormance of one of seven different productions that were staged by the troupe accompanying the Peking Opera star Mei Langfang (1894-1961) who was invited in 1924 to perform at the newly rebuilt Teikoku Gekijo in Tokyo between October 25th and November 4th to celebrate the theater's reopening and the eighty-eighth birthday of the self-made man and patron of Asian art, Baron Okura Kihachiro (1837-1928, the founder of the Okura-gumi zaibatsu, which became the Taisei Corporation). Chinese Opera is similar to Japanese kabuki, both utilizing all-male casts with elaborate costumes and stage makeup. As Mei Langfang specialized in female roles, this is likely a different actor from the troupe. The design is recorded on a list of Koka's printed works with the title Shina shibai seichu den hoshi, which is can be translated as Opera Actor in Qing Heroic Tale, and the character's name roughly translates as 'Star-Busting Dragon.'
Although produced after the destruction of the earthquake, extant prints from the 1924 group are more scarce than most of Toyonari's pre-earthquake kabuki portraits; likely the ardent kabuki fans ensured a robust market with greater distribution (and thus preservation) of the portraits. In contrast, this stylistic portrait of a Chinese actor is extremely rare; it is not recorded in the 1930 Toledo shin hanga exhibition.
Amy Reigle Newland, et. al., Printed to Perfection: Twentieth Century Japanese Prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection, Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2004, p. 83, no. 67
Koyama Shuko, Beautiful Shin Hanga- Revitalization of Ukiyo-e,Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum, 2009, p. 183, no. 4-62
Andreas Marks, Seven Masters: 20th Century Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Wells Collection, pp. 64-73, and Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2015, Yamamura Koka (Toyonari) Exhibition History, p. 211
Darrel C. Karl, Modern Japanese Performing Art Prints: Yamamura Koka (www.mjpap.com)
(inv. no. C-1719)
Scholten Japanese Art is open Monday - Friday, and some Saturdays by appointment only
Contact Katherine Martin at
(212) 585-0474 or email
to schedule a visit between 11am and 4pm preferably for no more than two individuals at a time.
Visitors are asked to wear face masks and practice social distancing at their discretion.
site last updated
October 14, 2021
Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475
Join our mailing list...