Ippitsusai Bunchō
The Actor Ichikawa Yaozō II as Akaneya Hanshichi
1768, 8th month

Signed: Ippitsusai Bunchō ga, artist’s seal: Mori uji; hosoban, 31.7 x 14.5 cm; nishiki-e with black ground (kuro-tsubushi)

Yaozō is depicted in the tragic role of Akaneya Hanshichi, here on his way to commit suicide with his beloved. The print is one of an art historically important group of early actors’ portraits by Bunchō and Shunshō with captions giving detailed information on the actor, role, theatre, date and play. They are an immensely valuable source of information for theatre studies. Over 150 of these documents are known – more than 20 of them in a Meiji period album at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Provenance: Henri Vever (Sotheby’s, London, March 1974)
Riese Collection #37

Hanshichi, the proprietor of Akaneya, a shop in Kyōto was desperately in love with a courtesan named Sankatsu of the Minoya house in the Shimanouchi district of Ōsaka. When tragic circumstances threatened to separate the pair, they resolved to flee and commit suicide together in the graveyard of a temple on an autumn evening. This extremely tender and poetic print shows Hanshichi walking sorrowfully but with a clear resolve, towards his death. A companion piece, another of Bunchō’s most celebrated designs, shows the actor Segawa Kikunojō II as Hanshichi’s lover Sankatsu, walking along before him holding an open umbrella, seemingly oblivious to the fact that night has fallen.
The portrait of Kikunojō is reproduced in the Ledoux catalogue (No. 6), and in Binyon and Sexton (Plate IV).
The print is from an important group of early hosoban portraits of actors by Bunchō and Shunshō which bear detailed inscriptions with the actor, role, theatre, date, and other the name of the play. The evidence suggests that these prints were collected and inscribed by a contemporary of the artists, and they are an invaluable source for identifying roles and dating the prints of this important period. Over 150 of these inscribed prints have been recorded, more than 20 of them in an album in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, which once belonged to the Meiji historian, Sekine Shisei.

Other impressions of the print are reproduced in Nihon Hanga Bijutsu Zenshū, Vol. 3, no. 70, and in Fujikake, Ukiyoe ho Kenkyū, Vol. 2, no. 213.