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Katsukawa: Early Masters of Kabuki Portraiture

Written by
Madison Folks
Published on
September 17, 2021 3:20:55 PM PDT September 17, 2021 3:20:55 PM PDTth, September 17, 2021 3:20:55 PM PDT

Ronin Gallery invites you to step into the theatrical world of 18th-century kabuki. Katsukawa: Early Masters of Kabuki Portraiture presents the brightest stars of the kabuki stage through the eyes of the artists of the Katsukawa School. Named for its founder, Shunsho Katsukawa, this artistic lineage redefined the field of actor prints (yakusha-e) in the late 18th century. Breaking away from the implied identities and simple palettes of the reigning Torii School, the Katsukawa artists brought individual actors to life. Through an unremitting flair for the dramatic, attentive portraiture, and virtuosity of color, artists such as Shunsho, Shunko, and Shunei reframed the focus of theatrical prints from an actor’s role to the actor himself.

From snarling villains to graceful onnagata, each portrait invited theater enthusiasts not only to relive the thrill of a surprise entrance, the thwarting of a villain, or the righting of an injustice, but also to appreciate the skill and personality of the actor. Though time has obscured some of the rich cultural context embedded in these prints, their visual impact remains undiminished. From distant stars to storied roles, the actor portraiture of the Katsukawa School allows contemporary viewers a glimpse of the 18th-century kabuki stage long after the curtain closed.

Explore our 53 page full-color exhibition catalogue, complete with an introduction to 18th-century kabuki, artist biographies, and 46 illustrations.