Kabuki actors were superstars in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Japan. They were admired by passionate fans with an insatiable appetite for images of them, fed by a publishing industry that mass-produced colorful woodblock prints of actors on stage that could be cheaply purchased as souvenirs of or substitutes for a theater experience. Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater from the Collection of the University of Michigan Museum of Art presents a selection of these dramatic prints that connected fans to their idols, including off- or backstage portrayals that satisfied fans’ voyeuristic curiosity about their favorite actors’ lives, fantasy scenes of actors in unlikely groupings, and even death portraits of especially famous actors. This introduction to the visual culture surrounding kabuki theater includes prints by major artists such as Utagawa Toyokuni (1769–1825), Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1865), Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861), and Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900).
Lead support for Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater from the Collection of the University of Michigan Museum of Art is provided by the University of Michigan Office of the Provost, the National Endowment for the Arts, the William T. and Dora G. Hunter Endowment, AISIN, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and the University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies. Additional generous support is provided by the Japan Foundation, Japan Business Society of Detroit, and the University of Michigan Institute for Research on Women and Gender.