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Natori Shunsen (1886-1960)

Biographical Data

Photo of artist (undated)
 Photo of artist (undated)


Natori Shunsen 名取春仙 (1886-1960)
Source: Hanga Gallery website http://www.hanga.com/bio.cfm?ID=17 and Dramatic Impressions: Japanese Theatre Prints from the Gilbert LuberCollection, Chance, Frank L. & Davis, Julie Nelson, University ofPennsylvania Press, 2007, p. 37-46.
NatoriShunsen, one of the finest designers of actor prints, was born NatoriYoshinosuke, the fifth son of a silk merchant. The family moved toTokyo after Shunsen's father lost his business.  In Tokyo, Shunsen had theopportunity to begin his artistic training. At the age of eleven, hebegan studying with Kubota Beisen (1852-1906), a Japanese-style(Nihonga) painter. During this time he received his artist's name"Shunsen". He later studied at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. 

In 1909 Shunsen began working atthe Tokyo Newspaper, Asahi Shinbun, illustrating the newspaper'sliterary sections and serialized novels. He worked with many famousauthors and developed an interest in depicting literary characters.Illustrating kabuki actors was a natural extension of this work. Thekabuki theater was very popular at that time and the stories andcharacters were well known by the public. In 1915 Shunsen first becameinvolved in designing actor prints. He contributed several printdesigns to the magazine New Actor Portraits (Shin Nigao-e). Otherartists involved with this project were Yamamura Toyonari (Koka) (1885-1942) andTorii Kotondo (1900-1976). 

While working at the newspaper, Shunsen beganto exhibit his paintings of kabuki and literary characters. During anexhibit in 1916, the woodblock publisher Watanabe Shozaburo happened tosee one of Shunsen's actor portraits, Nakamura Ganjiro as Kamiya Jihei.Watanabe was immediately impressed by the work and wanted to employShunsen as a print designer for his "new prints" (shin hanga). Shunsenagreed to a collaboration and Watanabe produced two actor prints fromhis designs in 1916 and 1917. 

After 1917 Shunsendecided to pursue other opportunities, though Watanabe probably wouldhave liked to continue their collaboration. However, in 1925 they again worked together.  Shunsen had started designing a seriesof 36 actor portraits for the publisher Kikuchi Yoshimaru. After thefirst print was completed, Kikuchi decided to turn over the project toWatanabe. This series, Shunsen nigao shū (variously translated as Thirty-six Kabuki Actors Portraits or Portraits of Actors in Various Roles or Collection of Shunsen Portraits) showcased some of Shunsen's finest kabukidesigns. Watanabe lavishly produced each print in a limited edition of150 and sold them only by subscription. The series lasted through 1929,and was followed by a supplement series of 15 actor prints producedthrough 1931. 

Shunsen's actor portraits were mainly in theokubi-e (large head) format which allowed him to focus on theexpression and emotions of the character's face. He also designed a fewbijin-ga (beautiful women) prints during the late 1920's, both with Watanabe and thepublisher Kato Junji. These prints (at least those produced byWatanabe) seem rather flat in comparison to the vibrant kabukiportraits, perhaps because they are not okubi-e

Shunsencontinued to work as an artist in the kabuki theater, but did notdesign any other actor prints until the early 1950's. From 1951 to1954, he collaborated with Watanabe on another series of 30contemporary actor prints, titled Butai no sugata-e (Forms of Actors Onstage.) Like the earlier series, these designs werebeautifully printed and are very expressive, especially the okubi-eportraits. However, to some critics, they are not as strikinglyoriginal as the first series, echoing the decline of the kabuki theaterduring that time.  While he did not produce any additional prints for Watanabe after this series, he continued to paint, produce drawings for prints and to teach until 1958.  Tragically, Shunsen and his wife lost their beloveddaughter Yoshiko to pneumonia in 1958. They were unable to recover fromtheir grief and committed double suicide on the family grave in Tokyo.

Signatures and Seals of the Artist (a partial list)





春仙筆 / 年玉
Shunsen hitsu / toshidama cartouche

春仙寫かく / 年玉
Shunsen shakaku 
 / toshidama cartouche

Shunsen sha

春仙 / 春仙
Shunsen / Shunsen seal
春仙 / unread
Shunsen / unread seal

春仙 / 梶蔦
Shunsen / Bichō seal
Sunsen / flower pattern seal

春仙画 / 黛子洞
Shunsen ga / Taishidō seal

春仙画 / unread
Shunsen ga / unread seal

Shunsen ga / leaf pattern seal

Shunsen ga / flower pattern seal

春仙 / 春仙
Shunsen / Shunsen seal

春仙絵 / 名取 
Shunsen-e / Natori seal
春仙 / 名取 
Shunsen / Natori seal

春仙 / unread
Shunsen / unread seal
春仙 / 
Shunsen / Shun seal

春仙画 / 春 仙
Shunsen ga / shun and sen seals

春仙 / 春仙
Shunsen / Shunsen seal
春仙 / unread
Shunsen / unread seal

名取春仙画 / unread
Natori Shunsen ga / unread seal

春仙 / 春仙
Shunsen / Shunsen seal

春仙画 / unread
TaishiShunsen ga / unread seal

梶蔦斎春仙画 / 
Bichōsai Shunsen ga / Shun seal

梶蔦斎春僊 / 春仙 
Bichōsai Shunsen ga / Shunsen seal

梶蔦斎春僊 / 春仙 
Bichōsai Shunsen ga / paulownia pattern seal

黛子洞春仙 / 春仙
Taishidō Shunsen / Shunsen seal

Seishite Shunsen paulownia pattern seal

倣広重図春仙 / 春仙
Hiroshige no zu ni naraite Shunsen / Shunsen seal
(Shunsen imitating Hiroshige)
(artist's seal of approval)

Kana taken from website of Japan Arts Council:
黛子洞春仙 ( たいしどうしゅんせん )Taishidō Shunsen
梶蔦斎春仙 (びちょうさいしゅんせん Bichōsai Shunsen
梶蔦斎春僊 ( びちょうさいしゅんせん )Bichōsai Shunsen
倣広重図春仙 ( ひろしげのずにならいてしゅんせん )Hiroshige no zu ni naraite Shunsen
青紫亭春仙 ( せいしていしゅんせん )Seishite Shunsen


Catalogue Raisonne – Ukiyoe Kabuki Gi Han Ga: Shunsen Natori (TheSkill of Natori Shunsen in Kabuki Prints), Kushigata Municipal ShunsenMuseum, Kushigata, Japan, 1991
Dramatic Impressions: Japanese Theatre Prints from the Gilbert LuberCollection, Chance, Frank L. & Davis, Julie Nelson, University ofPennsylvania Press, 2007    

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