Flowers of the Theatrical World: Actor Matsumoto Koshiro VII as Sukeroku
(Rien no Hana: Matsumoto Koshiro no Sukeroku)
with white mica background; signed at right Toyonari ga, with circular date seal, Tai kyu (Taisho 9 ), archaic seal Mori at lower left corner, self-published with the support of the Yamamura Koka Hanga Kankokai (Publication Society of Yamamura Koka's prints), 1920
dai oban tate-e 16 1/8 by 11 5/8 in., 41 by 29.5 cm
This print is from Toyonari's untitled self-published series popularly known as Flowers of the Theatrical World (Rien no hana). After producing four kabuki actor portraits with the publisher Watanabe Shozaburo (1885-1962), the first appearing in 1916 and the last in 1919, a group of collectors formed the Publication Society of Yamamura Koka's Prints which enabled the artist to issue the series of twelve prints from 1920-1921, the first prints he would produce bearing his go (artist name) Toyonari. All of the prints illustrate actors in character presented dramatically against a solid background. Eight are embellished with mica which visually references coveted mica ground 'big head' portraits by golden-age ukiyo-e artists such as Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) and Toshusai Sharaku (active 1794-1795).
The actor Matsumoto Koshiro VII (1870-1949) is in the role of Hanakawa Sukeroku, an otokodate (chivalrous commoner) from the play Sukeroku yukari no Edo zakura (Sukeroku, the flower of Edo). Although set in the Yoshiwara, the trials of Sukeroku are modeled after the story of one of the Soga brothers (Soga no Goro) a popular theme revisited in numerous kabuki interpretations. The play Sukeroku is one of the Kabuki Juhachiban ('Eighteen Kabuki Plays') compiled by Ichikawa Danjuro VII in 1840 as favorites for the family repertoire. The Sukeroku role is identified by the lavender or purple towel tied around his head, which symbolizes his love-sickness for the beautiful courtesan Agemaki. The flower (probably peony) crest on the dark kimono is also typical for the role.
Matsumoto Koshiro VII was extensively recognized as the greatest kabuki star of his generation. From the age of eleven, he was trained by Ichikawa Danjuro IX, one of the most important kabuki actors of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) who is credited, in part, with revitalizing and redefining the theater for the modern era. Ichikawa Danjuro IX recognized Koshiro VII's potential during his first performance in the drama Moritsuna Jinya as the character Koshiro in 1881. He soon became an acclaimed actor and in 1911 he joined the newly established Imperial Theater, then the Schochiku Theater in 1929. One of his sons became Ichikawa Danjuro XI (1909-1965).
Andreas Marks, Seven Masters: 20th Century Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Wells Collection, Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2015, p. 64 (large detail), p. 74, no.30
Koyama Shuko, Beautiful Shin Hanga- Revitalization of Ukiyo-e, Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum, 2009, p. 73, no. 2-40
(inv. no. 10-5033)
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