Asia Society

The Nineteenth Century: Expanding the Parameters of Ukiyo-e

Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1865)
View of the Dressing Rooms in a Theater in Dōtonbori, Osaka (Ōsaka Dōtonbori shibai gakuya no zu)
ca. 1821–22
Color woodcut triptych
36 x 75 cm approx.
Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA, Harriet B. Bancroft Fund, 2003.115

Kunisada presents an imaginary view of the bustling backstage area of a kabuki theater in Osaka. Four dressing rooms thronged with actors preparing for a performance of Sugawara’s Secrets of Calligraphy occupy the left and right sheets of this complex triptych. Among the stars preparing their costumes are Edo actors who were on tour in the Kyoto-Osaka region in the early spring of 1821: Iwai Hanshirō V, seated on a black wig box in the lower level of the left sheet; Bandō Mitsugorō III, third from the right on the lower level of the right sheet, returning from the bath; and, to his left, Matsumoto Kōshirō V, already dressed in wig and imposing checked and padded costume. The Osaka actor Nakamura Utaemon III (Shikan) kneels in front of a mirror holding a fan in the room on the upper level on the right sheet.

No performance of the play mentioned in the text took place at this time in Osaka, so the print is likely to have been targeted toward the Edo fans of the three actors, rather than an Osaka audience. Eijūdō, an Edo publisher, may have commissioned this imaginary image from Kunisada as an addendum to a series of views he made of the backstage areas of the three main Edo theaters.

Photo: Steve Briggs: © Worcester Art Museum