Utagawa Kunisada (歌川国貞) / Toyokuni III (三代豊国) (artist 1786 – 01/12/1865)

Nakamura Utaemon III [中村歌右衛門] as the monkey trainer Yojirō (与次郎) from the series Great Performances (Ōatari kyōgen no uchi - 大當狂言之内)


ca 1815
10 in x 14.75 in (Overall dimensions) Japanese color woodblock prints

Signed: Gototei Kunisada ga
Publisher: Kawaguchiya Uhei (Marks 232 seal 21-142)
Censor's seal: kiwame
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Musée Guimet
Harvard Art Museums
Nelson Art Gallery - another print Yaoya Ohichi from this series
Nelson Art Gallery
Cleveland Museum of Art

In Kunisada: Imaging Drama and Beauty it says: "Nakamura Utaemon III (1778-1838) appears here in the role of the monkey trainter Yojirō from a staging of kabuki play A recent competition on the riverbed (Chikagoro kawara tatehiki; popularly known as Ōshun Denbei) at the Nakamura Theatre in the fourth month of 1808. His cotton summer kimono features the distinctive blue ikat-dyed starfish pattern typically worn by this character.

Yojirō is the brother of Ōshun, a courtesan in the Gion district of Kyoto who is in love with the merchant Izutsuya Denbei. As a series of events unfold - among them Denbei's act of murder - Yojirō becomes anxious that his sister and Denbei might reunite and commit double suicide. Despite Yojirō's best efforts, however, the lovers do meet. Rather than further dissuade them Yojirō and his mother send them off into the night disguised as monkey trainers, but not before celebrations to enact their nuptial ties, including a delightful scene of dancing monkey."


Sebastian Izzard wrote in Kunisada's World on page 46: "The 'Great Performances' series represents a high point in Kunisada's career as a theatrical portraitist. A sense of movement is suggested in these dramatic close-ups by means of a carefully engraved calligraphic line that varies in width. The pigments are expensive and the printing is exact. To judge by the limited number of extant copies and the absence of late impressions, the size of the edition was probably small. Most faces display exaggerated eyeballs, a device used later for a short period by the Utagawa school, including Toyokuni (1769-1825), to enhance the graphic impact of the composition. That this idiosyncrasy is found in a series that predates, Yakusha nigao-e gahō kyōhon (A study book of actor portraiture) published in 1817, demonstrates the extent to which Kunisada influenced the drawing techniques of his teacher."

There is a fairly large black and white illustration of the copy in the Rijksmuseum accompanying this entry.


There is another copy of this print in the Mann Collection in Highland Park, Illinois.


Also illustrated in:

1. Black and white in the Catalogue of the Collection of Japanese Prints Part IV - Hiroshige and the Utagawa School, Rijksprentkabinet/Rijksmuseum, 1984, no. 116, p. 71. The text notes that "Utaemon performed this role in the play Oshun Denbei at the Nakamura theatre in IV/1808." However, they give a date of 1814 for this print.

2. Treasury of Japanese Wood Block Prints: Ukiyo-e by Sadao Kikuchi, Crown Publishers, New York, 1968.

3. A small color reproduction in Designed for Pleasure: The World of Edo Japan in Prints and Paintings - 1680-1860 edited by Julia Meech and Jane Oliver, p. 17, 2008.

"The Great Performances series of seven mica-ground portraits of actors in major roles may have been Kunisada's tribute to Sharaku. Kunisada's designs appeared some twenty years after Sharaku vanished from the Edo scene. Unlike Sharaku, who created designs of actors performing in plays presented almost contemporaneously with the issuance of his prints, Kunisada issued 'retrospective' prints commemorating particular 'great performances' over the preceding eight years."

4. A color reproduction in Kunisada: Imaging Drama and Beauty by Robert Schaap, p. 77.

5. Color in A Special Exhibition of Japanese Woodblock Prints: Ukiyo-e from Tadashi Goino's Collections (日本浮世繪兿術特展: 五井野正先生収藏展), National Museum of History [Taipei], 1999, 89.
Kawaguchiya Uhei (川口屋卯兵衛) (publisher)
Nakamura Utaemon III 三代目中村歌右衛門 (actor)
actor prints (yakusha-e - 役者絵) (genre)
ōkubi-e (大首絵) (genre)
Yojirō (与次郎) the monkey trainer (role)