Utagawa Toyokuni
Nakamura Denkurō IV Backstage

Signed: Toyokuni ga; Publisher’s seal: Iwachō (Iwatoya Chōbei); kakemono-e, 52.0 x 19.0 cm; nishiki-e with karazuri, shōmenzuri and kirazuri

From a series of portraits of actors out of role The actor Nakamura Denkurō is sitting at a makeup table in his dressing room. He seems to be writing his autograph on a visitor’s fan. On the wall above his head, hangs a sign with his name. This print is from a series of portraits of actors out of role. The publisher Iwatoya, who published the outstanding kakemono-e by Utamaro in 1800,also had these woodcuts by Toyokuni printed in luxurious quality.

Janette Ostier, Paris (November 1960)
Riese Collection #98

The actor is seated before his make-up table. On the table are powder brushes, an ink slab, a porcelain cup of colouring pigment and a large mirror. To the actor’s right are chests filled with costumes, and to his right a tub of water for removing make-up, and a portable brazier. He is about to inscribe a fan, probably in response to the young woman’s request for an autograph.

The print, witch affords as a rare glimpse of the activity back stage at a kabuki theatre, is one of a series of at least six portraits of actors out of role, all in this large upright format. Five others, including portraits of Ichikawa Omezō, Segawa Kikunojō III, Ichikawa Komazō II, Sawamura Sōjūrō III, and Ichikawa Yaozō III, are mentioned in the Straus-Negbaur catalogue (nos. 375-380). The same publisher also issued several prints in this format by Utamaro which are also characterised by careful engraving and elaborate printing. Denkurō IV dies in 1799 at the age of 25. The set was probably published shortly before his unexpected death that year.

Another impression is reproduced in the Straus-Negbaur catalogue, no. 375, pl. 45.