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Actors backstage

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Kunisada Loan

Yakusha kijinden (Biographies of eccentric actors)

Page from the book of this title, printed from woodblocks, 1833

Private collection

Ichikawa Danjuro VII is revealed here in his dressing room, chatting with the female-role actor Segawa Kikunojo V. Three assistants are dressing Danjuro in the bulky costume of the lead role of Kamakura Gongoro in Shibaraku! (Stop right there!). He has already put on the elaborate make-up required for the role. Two servants struggle to tighten his armour and jacket, while another servant on the right brings in the giant trousers (hakama). The great eight-foot sword that he will carry over his shoulder is seen resting against the wall behind him.

This book appeared in four volumes and provided meticulously rendered views of actors on and off stage, with a text discussing leading actors and their predecessors. It is remarkable for its restrained yet rich palette. A book like this would cost considerably more than a single-sheet colour print. It was intended for the wealthier connoisseurs of the Kabuki theatre.

Kunisada Image

Kawarazaki Gonjuro I (Danjuro IX) backstage applying make-up for the role of Umeo-maru in Sugawara denju tenarai kagami (Sugawara and the secrets of calligraphy) performed at the Ichimura theatre from 17/10/1861

Given by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam with the aid of the MGC Purchase Grant Fund and the National Art Collections Fund

Published in 12/1861. Kunisada designed several prints in connection with this performance, three of which are displayed in this case. Umeo-maru is one of the prime examples of the aragoto or ‘rough-stuff’ style of kabuki role, with appropriately fierce red make-up (nipponsujigama) applied on a white base, and an extravagant wig (seen on the wig-stand) with high pom-pom and spoke-like projections on either side, known as the kuruma bin (carriage sidelocks). Gonjuro I can be seen as Umeo-maru in another print in this exhibition.

Collections Record: P.87-1999

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Organised for Japan 2001

The Fitzwilliam Museum is especially grateful to John Carpenter, Tim Clark, Paul M. Griffith, Hideyuki Iwata and Ellis Tinios for their generous help during the preparation of this exhibition.

Funded by Japan 2001