Exhibitions: Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print, 1770–1900

Toyohara Kunichika: Color Woodcut

Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900). The Actor Ichikawa Sadanji I as Akiyama Kii no kami, 1894. From the series New Plays of the Meijiza Theater: The Conflagration. Color woodcut. Chazen Museum of Art, John H. Van Vleck Endowment Fund purchase, 2004.42a–c

In this triptych, the actor Ichikawa Sadanji I is surrounded by flames in a climactic scene from the historical play The Kōshū War Strategy and the Takeda Clan Preparing for Battle. The print comes from a series commemorating plays performed at a theater that Sadanji had recently taken over as manager and lead actor. The bright pigments, many of them aniline dyes that had not been available in Japan prior to the 1860s, intensify the excitement of the drama. The actor’s pose captures the moment before he thrusts his sword into his abdomen in ritual suicide.