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

Utagawa Kunisada: The Actor Sawamura Sojuro V as Kan Shojo

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III, 1786–1865). The Actor Sawamura Sōjūrō V as Kan Shōjō, 1860. From an untitled series of large-head portraits. Color woodcut. Chazen Museum of Art, John H. Van Vleck Endowment Fund purchase, 2006.10

This series of close-up actor portraits was one of the last projects Kunisada undertook, and he was unable to finish it before his death. It includes depictions of actors in roles that they had played years before—a departure from the common practice of celebrating only the latest productions. Designed as a grand finale for the artist’s career, the portraits were printed with the most expensive materials and techniques. This print is on thicker paper than usual and features multiple shades of black for the hair, embossing on the white robe, and the application of a clear gloss to create a nearly invisible pattern on the light blue collar.