Utagawa Kunisada (Utagawa Toyokuni III
The Actor Bandō Mitsugorō III as Kajiwara Genta
1815, 4th month

Signed: Gotōtei Kunisada ga; Publisher’s seal: Jō Kawaguchi (Kawaguchiya Uhei); censor’s seal: kiwame; ōkubi-e, ōban, 38.5 x 25.5 cm; nishiki-e with light grey mica ground (nezumikira)

From the Successful Plays. Mitsugorō III as Kajiwara Genta performing the dance Shichi henge (“Seven Changes”) in 1811 or in Hiragana Seisuiki (“A Beginner's Version of the Rise and Fall of the Heike and the Genji”), which premiered in 1815. These bust portraits (ōkubi-e ) are considered Kunisada’s best works from the Bunka period (1804–1817). Prints of actors and courtesans in large formats had been prohibited since 1800, but this did not seems to concern Kunisada or his publisher.

Tadamasa Hayashi; Janette Ostier, Paris (January 1963)
Riese Collection #103

Late in 1815 or early in 1816, Utagawa Kunisada designed a series of seven large heads of actors which were printed with heavy grey mica grounds. It seems certain that Kunisada, then in his thirtieth years, was putting himself forward in the public eye and bidding for common recognition as the leading actor portraitist of his day, and that to do this he deliberately chose to revive the mica ground which had been out of fashion since the 1790s, but which conspicuously linked him in the public mind with the only other actor portraitist who had used the opaque mica ground, Tōshūsai Sharaku. Unlike Sharaku, who took all his large heads from performances in one month of 1794, Kunisada chose performances in which his actors had particularly excelled over a period of over seven years. The last performance in the series was given in the 11th month of 1815, and the set was probably issued that month, or on the following New Year. Since the set is rare, and has only been published once in its entirety (Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Ukiyo-e, 1969, nos. 373-379), a list of the actors and their roles follows:

1. Nakamura Utaemon III as the monkey-leader Yojiro. 4/1808
2. Iwai Hanshirō IV as Yaoya Oshichi. 1 or 7/ 1809
3. Matsumoto Kōshirō V as Banzui Chōbei. 4/1809
4. Onoe Shōroku II as the carpenter Rokusaburō. 7171813
5. Nakamura Matsue III as Akoya. 9/1814
6. Bando Mitsugorō III as Kajiwara Genta. 4/1815
(misdated my Yoshida to a dance of seven changes in 11/1808)
7. Ichikawa Danjūrō III as Kan Shōjō. 11/1815

Reproduced in: Ingelheim catalogue, no. 91.
Riese, Asiatische Studien, 1972, p. 109, no. 31.