'Kabuki Actors with a Steam Train in the Background'
Nishiki-e (brocade print)
Triptych, three ôban-size sheets
Signature: Toyohara Kunichika hitsu, Publisher: Tsujiokaya Bunsuke, Censorship seal: Mizunoe saru ku (September 1872)
Museum no. E.5289-1886
The first Japanese railway line opened between Shimbashi and Yokohama on 12 September 1872. This event is commemorated by the train in the background here, together with the depiction of the actor Kawarasaki Gonnosuke VII as Chôbei, and two other popular Kabuki stars, Sawamura Tosshô II and Onoe Kikugorô V, who appeared in a performance at the Morita-za Theatre in May of the same year.
Synthetic aniline dyes (which were first produced in 1856 in England) were introduced into ukiyo-e printing in the 1860s. Although they tended to be harsh and garish, in the hands of a skilled printer they could be used to striking and delicate effect.
Because these triptych prints have not been trimmed, the registration marks (kentô) at the bottom right and the lower left-hand side margins can be clearly seen today.
This print can be found in Japanese Print Room Box JP2.