Rescuing Kabuki in Modern Japan: The Portraiture of Toyohara Kunichika

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    Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900). Kumonryū Shishin (detail). Japan, Meiji period (1868–1912), 1898.

March 01, 2018 - April 22, 2018
Honolulu Museum of Art

Exhibition Overview

In 1868, the military leaders of Japan, who had until then ruled the country for more than 250 years, returned political control to the Imperial family. This coup d’état, known as the Meiji Restoration, led to the dramatic modernization and Westernization of the country’s political, economic, and social climate. As a result, public enthusiasm for the traditional arts of Japan, including woodblock printing and Kabuki theater, declined precipitously and Euro-American forms of mechanical reproduction, such as lithographic prints and cinema, threatened to replace Japanese artistic traditions entirely. Great ukiyo-e print designers, such as Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1865), who achieved fame for their Kabuki illustrations, were in danger of being entirely forgotten.

This rotation, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, considers how Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900), a student of Kunisada, produced his most ambitious series of woodblock prints: 100 portraits of Kabuki’s most prestigious actor, Ichikawa Danjūrō IX (1838–1903), in his most iconic roles, both male and female. The project consumed the artist’s final eight years and was finally completed by his assistants three years after his death.

Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900)
Kumonryū Shishin (detail)
From the series The One Hundred Roles of Ichikawa Danjūrō
Japan, Meiji period (1868–1912), 1898
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1991 (26533)