- Museum number
Painting, hanging scroll. The kabuki actor Segawa Michinosuke I as Shizuka Gozen dressed for travel and standing beneath branches of cherry in full bloom; she holds a bundle tied around her shoulders and carries a large, flat, black lacquer hat and long walking-stick; her kimono decorated with a dazzling pattern of yellow blossoms scattered on stylised flowing water, and one sleeve shrugged off. Ink and colour on silk. Signed, sealed and inscribed.
[Jap.Ptg.1439, image (a)] -
[Jap.Ptg.1439, image (b)] -
[Jap.Ptg.1439, image (c)] -
[Jap.Ptg.1439, image (T)] -
[Jap.Ptg.1439, image (Ta)] -
[Jap.Ptg.1439, image (V)] -
- Production date
Height: 93.80 centimetres
Width: 25.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
A (male) kabuki actor in female role, dressed in travelling outfit, stands beneath
a blossoming cherry tree, vying in his brilliant costume with the beauty of the flowers. Shizuka-gozen (dates unknown) was the beloved mistress of the warrior hero Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159–89) and the character is here shown making her way on foot to Mt Yoshino, where Yoshitsune is in hiding. This is a scene from the famously lyrical kabuki dance in Act Four of the much-loved play Yoshitsune senbon-zakura (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees), which features Lady Shizuka journeying to Yoshino.1 She poses with travelling hat and cane in either hand; the pattern of flowing water and kerria blossoms on her robe is especially alluring. The actor used this name, Michinosuke, between the eighth month, 1801, and the tenth month, 1807. His earlier names had been Sennosuke and Kikunosuke, and he went on to assume one of the most famous female-role specialist names, Segawa Kikunojo- IV (Roko-). Michinosuke is known to have played the role of Shizuka at the Ichimura Theatre in the eighth month, 1803, and this is most likely the performance depicted here. Painter Utagawa Toyokuni I was a leading artist of images of both kabuki actors and beautiful women; the present scroll was probably specially commissioned by an ardent fan of the actor. The haiku poem inscribed directly on the top of the scroll was composed by the actor himself and written in his own elegant calligraphy. It includes a punning reference to the role name (Shizuka): ‘In the season / of blossoming cherry, / why not proceed more slowly?’ (‘Sakura saku / koro wa shizuka ni / hoko- kana’). [NMa]
Standing beneath branches of cherry in full bloom, the young actor Segawa Ronosuke (who used this name from 1801 to 1807) is dressed for travelling. The female character he plays has a bundle tied around her shoulders and carries a large, flat, black lacquer hat and a long walking-stick. The kimono, one sleeve of which has been shrugged off to accommodate the bundle, is decorated with a dazzling pattern of yellow blossoms scattered on stylised flowing water.
A short 'haiku' poem, written (and probably composed) by the actor himself, is inscribed in elegantly trailing lines of calligraphy at the top of the painting:
In the season
of blossoming cherry
why not proceed more slowly?
Aside from the obvious invitation to linger in one's travels and admire the blossoming cherry, the poem contains a punning allusion to the name of Princess Shizuka, who is probably the character portrayed here by Ronosuke. Shizuka's flight to Mt Yoshino, famous for its cherry trees, was the most poignant scene in the play 'Yoshitsune sembon-zakura' ('Yoshitsune and the Yoshino Cherry Trees'), and Shizuka a role particularly associated with Ronosuke's great predecessor, Segawa Kikunojo III. Ronosuke is recorded as having played the role of Shizuka only once - at the Ichimura theatre in the eighth month of 1803 - and it is likely that this is the performance Toyokuni has painted.
In comparison with paintings of beauties paintings of actors are rare, and since this example is actually inscribed by Ronosuke one can imagine that it was intended as a gift for one of his important patrons.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2013 3 Oct - 2014 5 Jan, London, BM, Shunga: Sex and pleasure in Japanese art, 1600-1900
2019 October - 2020 April, BM Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries
- Associated events
- Associated Event: Performance at the Ichimura theatre in the eighth month of 1803
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Yoshitsune senbon-zakura 義経千本桜 (Yoshitsune and the Yoshino Cherry Trees) (kabuki play)
Associated Title: Michiyuki hatsune no tabi (道行初音旅) (related dance)
Associated Title: Yoshinoyama (吉野山) (related dance)
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The collection of Japanese and Chinese paintings belonging to Arthur Morrison was purchased by Sir William Gwynne-Evans, who presented it to the British Museum in 1913.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Asia painting number: Jap.Ptg.1439 (Japanese Painting Number)