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Memorial portrait of Nakamura Utaemon IV (中村歌右衛門)

Identifier: 1852 unknown Nakamura Utaemon IV

"This impressive portrait is a shini-e ('death or memorial picture') of the kabuki actor Nakamura Utaemon IV. Shini-e represent a type of pint that was almost exclusively made during the 19th century following the death of a kabuki actor. The grey-blue colour of the robes generally dominates these works, which are static in feeling. Although not always reliable, useful biographical information is often contained in these prints. Many shini-e from the period c. 1840-60 - like this print - are unsigned, have neither publisher's mark not censor's seal.

Nakamura Utaemon IV (1798-1852) is depicted in the role of Taira Kiyomori (1118-81), the coarse-featured leader of the Taira clan, who is seen here with shaved head and dressed as a monk. The role of Kiyomori was one of the last staged by Utaemon IV before he died in Osaka on, according to the print, the seventeenth day of the second month of 1852 (in other accounts it was the second day). Utaemon IV was a pupil of Utaemon III and went with him to the Kamigata area (Kyoto-Osaka). He reportedly left Osaka in 1838 after a wage dispute, but returned in 1850 in triumph.

The poem, a tanka (verse of thrity-one syllables) written by Kuniyoshi's lifelong friend, the poet Umeya Kakuju, reads:

Hi no kieshi
yō ni nashikeri
wasa wo kino
Taira Shōkoku wa
nagori ni wa shite

he went out like a flame
he played his role
we will remember
Taira Shōkoku [Kiyomori]

This unsigned ōkubi-e ('large-head picture') has traditionally been attributed to Kuniyoshi..." Quoted from: Heroes and Ghosts: Japanese Prints by Kuniyoshi 1797-1861 by Robert Schaap, p. 165.


The text on the left reads:

梅屋 火のきえしやうになしけりわさをきの平相国を名ごりにはして


Also illustrated in color in Kuniyoshi by Juzo Suzuki, Heibonsha Limited, Publishers, 1992, no. 317.

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