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Shunko (1743 - 1812)

Kabuki Actor Segawa Kikunojo III

Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: c. 1780
Size (H x W): 13 x 6 (inches)
Signature: Shunko ga
Condition: Very fine color, impression and state.



When women were banned from the kabuki stage in 1629, male actors stepped up to play female roles. Here, Shunko presents a kabuki actor specializing in females roles—an onnagata. His arched posture and flowing kimono combine with the background diagonal to create a dramatic portrait of the popular actor.

About the artist

Born as Denjiro Kiyokawa, Shunko Katsukawa began designing prints and illustrated books in 1771. An early student of Shunsho, at times Shunko signed his work with jar seal similar to that of his teacher, earning him the nickname “little tsubo.” It is likely that he was the senior pupil in Shunsho’s studio at the time that Hokusai (then known as Shunro) was a student. According to Hokusai’s own account, Shunko was a firm but influential teacher. Shunko is credited with the creation of “big head” okubi-e portraiture. He began to experiment with this format in 1780, depicting each actor’s face and upper chest. He later explored the concept further with a similar series in the oban size. These works are commonly considered the forerunners to the okubi-e of the mid-1790s. In his early 40s, Shunko suffered a stroke and lost use of his right side. Though he stopped printing at this time, he continued his career as a painter, working with his left hand and signing his work “go sahitsusai” or “studio of the left brush.”