Actors in a Kabuki Love Story

Toyohara Chikanobu (Japanese, 1838 – 1912)
Woodblock print
Work : 14 x 28 1/4 in. (35.56 x 71.75 cm)
Each : 14 x 9 1/4 in. (35.56 x 23.5 cm)
Credit Line
Hope College Collection
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With the accidental discovery of synthetic dyes in 1856, English chemist William Henry Perkin ushered in a new chemical age. While trying to produce synthetic quinine, the only known treatment for malaria at the time, Perkin created mauve, the first aniline dye. The use of aniline dyes spread rapidly because they were bright and easy to produce, unlike dyes from natural sources, which were difficult to extract and faded quickly. Purple and red dyes had historically been the most difficult and expensive colors to produce, and thus became associated with the aristocracy in both Europe and Japan. After aniline dyes made red and purple more widely available, they came to be regarded as “the colors of progress” in Japan and signified the Meiji government’s support for Western technology and innovation. This print, depicting a kabuki play set in Tokyo’s brothel district, shows off both the vividness of the dyes and their widespread use in printmaking and clothing during the Meiji period. 

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