Tōshūsai Sharaku
The Actor Segawa Kikunojō III in the Role of Oshizu
1794, 5th month

Signed: Tōshūsai Sharaku ga; Publisher’s logo (Tsutaya Jūsaburō); censor’s seal: kiwame; ōkubi-e, ōban, 37.6 x 25.6 cm; nishiki-e with light grey mica ground (nezumikira), kirazuri and shōmenzuri

This print is considered one of Sharaku’s most important portraits of an actor in a female role. The cropped and somewhat faded print in the Tōkyō National Museum is registered as what is called an “Important Cultural Property”. The print in the Riese Collection is particularly noteworthy because of the freshness of its colours and the fine quality of the printing technique, as exhibited particularly by the transparent tortoise-shell comb and the matte pink blush around Oshizu’s eyes.

Gillot, Paris (1938); Dorothy Bess, Ashville, N.C.; N. Chaikin, Tolochenaz (March 1967)
Riese Collection #94

No libretto for the play Hanaayame Bunroku Soga has survived, but an examination of the playbills shows a complicated tale of revenge. Three brothers attempt to avenge their father’s death. The eldest is killed by their common enemy, who tries to ambush Ishii Genzō, one of the survivors, and his wife. The attack is thwarted by the intervention of Tanabe Bunzō, a samurai, who is stabbed in the leg by the villain and crippled. After many misfortunes, Bunzō recovers and joins Genzō and his brother in their final revenge. Kikunojō is shown here in the role of Bunzō’s wife, Oshizu. The print is generally accepted as one of Sharaku’s great portraits of an actor in a female role. The Tōkyō National Museum impression, which is trimmed and slightly faded, is registered in Japan as an Important Cultural Property. This impression is particularly noteworthy for the freshness of its colour and the delicacy of its printing, particularly for the transparent shell comb, and the pale rosy flush around Oshizu’s eyes.

Several impressions of Sharaku’s prints bear hand-written inscriptions, which seem to fall into recognizable groups. One group, including Henderson and Ledoux 2 and 15, and the Tōkyō National Museum impression of this print (Cat. 2343), bears the name of the actor portrayed and a date, the ninth month of 1794. Henderson and Ledoux suppose that this was the date a collector purchased the prints, but it is perhaps more likely that the collector who inscribed these and many other prints, may have misremembered the dates of the performances. It is always assumed that the Sharaku prints were published the same month that the plays were performed. Another possibility is that the idea for the series was conceived during the course of the performance, and sketches were made while the play was going on, but that is took some time for the twenty-eight mica ground portraits to be printed. If, as Suzuki has suggested, the prints were published as a set for certain theatre patrons, it is possible that printing went on over the summer of 1794, but the prints were not issued until the autumn.

Another group of Sharaku prints, all of them hosoban, bear inscriptions in a loose, flowing hand which is thought to be that of the writer Shokusanjin. Some of the names used for the actors show that the inscriptions were added at least ten years after the prints were published.

A third group of mica ground portraits bears inscriptions in Sino-Japanese which are attributed to a mid-19th century writer Ueda Shikibuchi, who used the go Ōmutei. One of these is reproduced in Henderson and Ledoux, no. 25. A fourth group of the large heads bears the names of the actors inscribed in a large, bold hand (Henderson and Ledoux 11, 14, and 18). A fifth group, which includes the present print, contains inscriptions in a neat, regular hand. This print is inscribed Kansei jidai Segawa Rokō nochi ni Senjo to aratamu yago Hamamuraya gonen made nadakai, “Segawa Rokō during the 1790s. Afterwards changed name to Senjo. House name Hamamuraya. Famous until the end of his life.”
Kikunojō changed his name to Rokō in 1801 and to Senjo in 1807. He acted on stage until his death in 1810, giving a terminus post quem for the inscription. Another print from this group, a hosoban portrait of Yaozo III as Fuwa with an inscription mentioning a name change in 1809 is reproduced in Henri Vever, (Sotheby’s, London, 26 March 1974, no. 258).

Reproduced in Riese, Asiatische Studien, 1972, p. 106, no. 28.

On the Tōkyō National Museum impression of this print which is reproduced in colour in Kikuchi, A Treasury of Japanese Woodblock Prints, pl. 69, the actor’s headband seems to be printed in a slightly lighter shade of purple than the forepatch of cloth which it secures. The woman’s collar seems to be white rather than light pink as in this impression, and her face seems to lack the delicate pink flush around the eyes that is visible here. The long inscription on the Tōkyō impression makes it seem that it was the first in the group to be inscribed.