Natori Shunsen (1886-1960)

Natori Shunsen was born in Tokyo in 1886. His family name was Natori Yoshinosuke. He changed his name to Shunsen at the age of eleven when he began studying painting with the Nihonga painter Kubota Beisen. He began his art career as a newspaper and book illustrator at the age of twenty-three. At that time he also began to exhibit his paintings in various galleries. Immediately acknowledged as a talented painter, he attracted the attention of Shozaburo Watanabe who persuaded him to try his hand at woodblock printing.

From 1925 to 1931 he produced a splendid series of "36 Portraits of Actors." Many of these prints were exhibited in the first Toledo Museum show of 1930 and the second Toledo exhibition in 1936, where he received international recognition. In 1951 he began producing woodblock prints again with Watanabe with the series "New Prints of Actors on the Stage." Again his work was met with enormous success and acclaim. This euphoria was short lived. In 1958, his lovely daughter Yoshiko died of pneumonia at the age of twenty-two. Emotionally distraught, he and his wife committed double suicide by poison at the family grave in Tokyo.

His prints are signed in many different ways but all reading Shunsen. His seals are various and differing in patterns as: leaf seal; seal 'natori'; seal 'shun'; seal 'kajicho', and dual seals of 'shun' and 'sen'. In the margin he sometimes stamped his seal of approval 'natori'. Generally, there appears the publisher's seal of Watanabe. Shunsen's actor portraits are straightforward and sincere. He respects his subjects and depicts them in a natural though idealized manner. Through his prints we have a true record of the actors, their makeup and their costumes. His portraits are large and beautifully projected by backgrounds of mica.

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