“32 Actors” (ca. 1870)
by Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900)
7 x 4.5 in., woodblock ink on paper
Here are 28 of the 32 images from this book, including the inside front cover and the inside back cover. These were originally glued at the edges into a book that accordion-opened.
At 13 years old, Toyohara Kunichika (30 June 1835 – 1 July 1900) became a student of Tokyo’s then-leading print maker, Utagawa Kunisada. His deep appreciation and knowledge of kabuki drama led to his production primarily of ukiyo-e actor-prints, which are woodblock prints of kabuki actors and scenes from popular plays of the time.
He successfully transitioned from the Edo period (through 1868) to the Meiji period (1868-1912), characterized by modernization, industrialization, and extensive contact with the West. To his contemporaries and now to some modern art historians, this has been seen as a significant achievement during a period of great social and political change in Japan’s history.
Ukiyo-e artists had traditionally illustrated urban life and society – especially the theater, for which their prints often served as advertising. The Meiji period brought competition from the new technologies of photography and photoengraving, effectively destroying the careers of most. Kunichika was listed as a top ten artist in 1865, 1867, and 1885.