A French traveler and artist currently exploring Australia. I enjoy bushwalking, discovering the local culture and arts.
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Hairdos and make-up, kabuki style
The room is filled with print upon print, featuring heavily made-up faces, extravagant eye-liner, physics-defying hairdos and expressions ranging from stern, snide, triumphant and desperate: the place looks like a teenager's bedroom… if that teenager had lived in Japan in the early 20th century.
Natori Shunsen Japan 1886-1960 Nakamura Jakuemon III as Yaoya Oshichi in 'The stylish maid and love's dappled cloth' 1927 from the series Collection of creative portraits by Shunsen woodblock print; ink and colour on paper, 37.2 x 25.7 cm National Gallery of Australia, Canberra The Orde Poynton Bequest 2004
Stars of the Tokyo stage: kabuki costumes and Natori Shunsen's actor prints, currently on show at the National Gallery of Australia (Canberra), lets you step inside the glamorous world of the Japanese kabuki theatre as it was in the 1920s and 30s. Kabuki – which broadly translates as: "the art of singing and dancing" – is an ancient form of Japanese theatre, dating back to the early 17th century. It is famous for the stylization of its drama and the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers.
Natori Shunsen Japan 1886-1960 Ichikawa Sadanji II as Narukami in 'Narukami' 1926 from the series Collection of creative portraits by Shunsen woodblock print, embossing; ink, colour and mica on paper, 38.0 x 25.8 cm National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2006
As Japan opened itself to Western influences in the early 20th century, some artists, including Natori Shunsen, saw this changing environment as a threat to the traditional Japanese arts. From 1915, he produced woodblock prints of famous kabuki actors and scenes for different Japanese publications. Using traditional techniques and subject-matter, he was at the centre of a modern revival of Japanese theatre and kabuki.
Natori Shunsen Japan 1886-1960 Okochi Denjiro as Tange Sazen 1931 from the series Supplement to collection of portraits by Shunsen woodblock print; ink, colour and mica on paper, 40.0 x 27.3 cm National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Pauline and John Gandel Fund, 2011
Each print depicts one or two leading actors as a character from kabuki's repertoire of historical dramas, domestic plays, comedies, tragedies, crime thrillers and supernatural epics. The images capture kabuki's exaggerated facial expressions, flamboyant costumes, cross-dressing, bold makeup and dramatic poses. It is stunning to see the transformation that actors undergo when incarnating two very different roles. And with a broad range of archetypes to portray, striking make-up, hairdo and costumes have a very important role to play.
Natori Shunsen Japan 1886-1960 Matsumoto Koshiro VII as Umeomaru in 'Sugawara's secrets of calligraphy' 1926 from the series Collection of creative portraits by Shunsen woodblock print; ink and colour on paper, 38.2 x 25.9 cm National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Gift of Jennifer Gordon 1998
The National Gallery of Australia is one of the few institutions to hold kabuki theatre costumes in its collection, and some are displayed in Stars of the Tokyo stage. Colourful robes and kimonos, ornamented with lavish designs, were often used for very particular roles, such as the brilliant akahime (red princess) robe, which was reserved for roles such as Shizuka in Yoshitsune and the thousand cherry trees.
Natori Shunsen Japan 1886-1960 Nakamura Shikaku II as Shizuka Gozen in 'Yoshitsune and the thousand cherry trees' 1926 from the series Collection of creative portraits by Shunsen woodblock print, embossing; ink and colour on paper, 38.2 x 25.6 cmNational Gallery of Australia, Canberra Gift of Jennifer Gordon 1998
Film clips and several other prints complement the series of portraits by Natori Shunsen, and explore all other aspects of the kabuki theatre scene: the sounds, crowds, lights, buildings and theatre sets that were as much part of the kabuki scene as the actors themselves
Stars of the Tokyo stage is full of colours, textures, stories and downright wonder. It is on show at the National Gallery of Australia until 12 October 2014. Entry is free. More information: click here