Japan art and Natori Shunsen: kabuki yakusha-e actor pictures
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Natori Shunsen (1886-1960) was an esteemed Japanese woodblock printer. He is known for his amazing portraits of kabuki actors. However, his own tragic ending of his life – and his wife – was equally dramatic and devastating as the greatest of kabuki performances.
This concerns the double suicide of Natori and his wife at the grave of their precious daughter. Thus, in a tragic end of life for the most morose of plays or written books, the death of their daughter from pneumonia when aged 22 never left them. Therefore, the cycle of despair finally led to the tragic events that unfolded at the graveside of their beloved daughter.
The Minami Alps Art Museum reports, “Natori Shunsen was born in Meiji Year 19 (1886) in the Akiho District of Yamanashi (modern-day Minami Alps City). When he was young, his family’s business fell into ruin and they decided to pack up and move to Tokyo. Life in Tokyo made Natori’s appreciation for art grow exponentially. From early childhood, he enjoyed drawing pictures, and by his teens, he began exhibiting sure signs of an artistic genius. During his life as an Ukiyo-e artist, he drew actor portraits or “yakusha-e,” and traditional Japanese-style paintings known as “nihon-ga.” His outstanding talent has been highly praised by researchers in recent years. Furthermore, he was also a writer who had published many stories.”
The British Museum says, “Contemporaries at his first school included the future ‘Nihonga’-style artists Kawabata Ryushi (1885-1966), Okamoto Ippei (1886-1948) and Okumura Dogyu (1889-1989). From 1897 he learned painting from Kubota Beisen (1852-1906) and his successor Kinsen (1875-1954). He also studied with Hirafuku Hyakusui (q.v.) who had great influence on him and led him to join the Musei’kai, a society dedicated to greater realism in ‘Nihonga’ painting…”
Natori witnessed momentous convulsions throughout his life concerning Japanese history. This concerns modernization, intense cultural changes, nationalism, enormous developments in the art scene, and the impact of America after World War Two.
He specialized in the ōkubi-e (large head style) style of portraits by illuminating amazing facial expressions.
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