Katsukawa Shunshō
The Actor Ichikawa Monnosuke II on New Year’s Day 1779

Signed: Shunshō ga; hosoban, 32.5 x 14.8 cm; nishiki-e

One of the earliest portraits of an actor in everyday life. Dated on the “1st day of the Year of the Boar” (1779), and foreseen with a New Year’s haiku by the actor, he presumably commissioned it as a present for his admirers. Shunshō often portrayed actors in their private lives, as in the book Yakusha natsu no Fuji (“Actors like Fuji in the Summer”, i.e. without snow – without makeup) from 1780.

Provenance: Horst A. Rittershofer (Berlin, November 1963)
Riese Collection #44

This print is one of the earliest portraits of an actor in daily life, off-stage. The fact that is dated and bears a poem by the actor himself, suggests that it may have been commissioned by Monnosuke as a New Year present to his admirers and supporters. The idea of portraying actors off-stage caught Shunshō’s fancy, as well, and the following year he designed a book entitled Yakusha Natsu no Fuji, “Actors as Fuji in summer”, entirely devoted to portraits of actors behind the scenes, out of role, or in their daily lives. The title of the book means that actors without their costumes are like a great mountain in the summer without its snow—still interesting to look at. The poem, signed Shinsha, Monnosuke’s poetry name, reads:

Monrei no
mon ni arasou ya
hana no haru

How can it vie
with the patron’s gate,
the flowery spring?

Monrei, or “gate respects” seems to be the word used for the visits that actors paid to their patrons on New Year’s Day. The word gate, mon or kado is also the first character in the actor’s name and it is quite remarkable that within the span of 17 syllables he has mentioned his name, paid his respects, and referred to the spring. The words just before the poem read “New Year’s Day, Year of the Boar”.

Reproduced in Ingelheim catalogue, no. 37.

Another impression is reproduced in the Tōkyō National Museum catalogue, no. 882.