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Celebrity, Kabuki Actors, and the Ichikawa Danjuro Line

Like today's entertainment figures, Kabuki actors inspired adulation. Woodblock prints, today treasured as fine art objects, were purely popular tokens of celebrity collected by fans. These prints, in both standard collector-friendly sizes and tiny throw-away formats, provide a window into the past, highlighting favorite actors, and revealing popular plays. They also demonstrate how print publishers promoted sales by hitching profits to specific actors, who became the subject of extensive series. Even after death an actors image, in the format of memorial portraits, could prove remunerative.

Ichikawa Danjuro I (1660-1704), established the most celebrated and prestigious Kabuki lineage, today embodied by Ichikawa Danjuro XII (b. 1946). This exhibition is replete with dramatic Danjuro images, from the scroll painting of Danjuro V in a neck-pulling competition to Kuniyoshi's print portrait of Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Kagekiyo, to Danjuro XII, boldly presented by Paul Binnie in the expansive Genroku Mie gesture (1994). One small gallery serves as a shrine to Ichikawa Danjuro IX (1837-1903), whose heyday coincided with the tumultuous Meiji period (1868-1912) also the focus of Carleton's Japanese print collection.