Utagawa Kunisada, Yakusha kijinden 役者畸人伝 , 1833

Utagawa Kunisada, Yakusha kijinden, 1833  

Artist: Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (1786-1865)

Author: Utei Enba II 烏亭焉馬 (1743-1822)

Title: Yakusha Kijinden 役者畸人伝 

Date: 1833

Medium: Woodblock printed; ink on paper. 

Publisher: Edo: Yamaguchiya Tōbē 山口屋藤兵衛, Nishimuraya Yohachi 西村屋与八, Moriya Jihe 森屋治兵衛

Donor: Presented by Arthur Tress. Arthur Tress Collection, Box 10, Item 9. 


The Yakusha kijinden or ‘Biographies of Eccentric actors’ is a four volume biographic account of four kabuki actors: Ichikawa Ebizō V 五代目市川海老蔵 (1791–1859), Segawa Kikunojō V 五代目瀬川菊之丞 (1802–1832), Sawamura Tosshō I 初代沢村訥升 (1802–1853), and Nakamura Shikan II 二代目中村芝翫 (1798–1852). Compiled by Utei Enba II, the volumes narrate personal anecdotes and praise the lineages and accomplishments of these actors. Kunisada, well-known for his actor prints, shows the actors in this Yakusha-e in roles they were well-known for as well as in roles that would suit them. Each volume contains historical information accompanied by images printed using multiple blocks and atleast three different kinds of ink. 

This illustration shows the actor Nakamura Shikan II as Ishikawa Goemon, a Japanese outlaw hero, gesticulating towards the courtesan Gion no Oritsu, played by Iwai Hanshirō. Kunisada’s signature can be seen on the bottom right.  

Kunisada trained under Utagawa Tokuyuni (1769-1825), producing prints in “traditional” genres such as kabuki, shunga, and historical prints. This 4 volume set is said to be one of Kunisada’s finest. Utei Enba II was a well-known satirist and frequently hosted many theatrical and literary assemblies. 

Other copies:

Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Hiroshima University

Kyoto Prefectural Library and Archives

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

National Diet Library, Tokyo

Nishio City Iwase Bunko, Aichi Prefecture

Osaka City University

Seikadō Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo

Tōhoku University, Sendai

Tokyo University of the Arts

University of Tokyo

Waseda University Theater Museum, Tokyo

Selected Readings:

Hillier, J.  The Art of the Japanese Book. Published for Sotheby’s Publications by Philip Wilson Publishers ; Distributed in the U.S. by Harper & Row London : New York,  1987, 582-3.

Izzard, Sebastian., J. Thomas Rimer, and John T Carpenter. Kunisada’s World. New York: Japan Society, in collaboration with Ukiyo-e Society of America, 1993. 

Tinios, Ellis., and Kunisada Utagawa. Mirror of the Stage: The Actor Prints of Kunisada. Leeds: University Gallery Leeds, 1996


Posted by Ayesha Sheth, October 4, 2019