Natori Shunsen (名取春仙 1886-1960) was a preeminent shin hanga ("new prints" or neo-ukiyo-e: 新版画) designer of actor prints and paintings. The son of a silk merchant, his birth name was Natori Yoshinosuke. From the age of eleven he studied nihonga (Japanese-style painting) with Kubota Beisen (1852-1906), from whom he also received his art name, Shunsen. He completed further instruction at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. From 1909 he worked as an illustrator for the daily newspaper Asahi Shinbun in Tokyo. He illustrated the serialized novels of the celebrated writer Natsume Sôseki (夏目漱石 1867-1916), who had begun working at the newspaper two years earlier. Other literary figures for whom he illustrated included Izumi Kyôka (1873-1939), Shimazaki Tôson (1872-1943), and Morita Sôhei (1881-1949). Some of the authors working with Shunsen also had their works dramatized in the theaters, which in turn sparked an interest in Shunsen for portraits of kabuki actors. He subsequently went on to portray actors from kabuki and the cinema.
Shunsen's earliest theatrical prints were made in 1915 for the five-volume Shibai: Shin nigao-e (The Theater: New likenesses) to which nine other artists contributed. His first association with the shin hanga publisher Watanabe Shôzaburô (1885-1962) took place in 1915, but they did not embark on an extended project until they collaborated on what was to be Shunsen's crowning achievement — Sôsaku hanga Shunsen nigao-e shû (A collection of Shunsen's creative-print likenesses) in 1925-29, initially comprising 36 portrait prints. Another 10 portraits were added due to pent-up demand for pictures of more actors. Watanabe also published 3 bijinga (pictures of beautiful women: 美人画) and a series of 30 prints for Shin han butai no sugata-e (New prints of actors on stage) from 1951-54.
Shunsen's life ended in tragedy when he lost his 22-yr-old daughter, Yoshiko, to pneumonia in 1958. In ill health himself, and unable to cope with their grief, Shunsen and his second wife, Shigeko, committed suicide by poison at the family grave in Kôtoku-ji, Aoyama, Tokyo in 1960.
Baikô VI is adorned in elegant kimono and obi (wide belt or sash: 帯), all with floral patterns. The actor's figure, printed in a neo-ukiyo-e manner with rich, saturated colors, contrasts with the gray silhouetted forms in the background, which includes a statue of Kûkai (空海), also known posthumously as Kôbô-Daishi (弘法大師 774–835), the founder of Shingon ("True Word": 真言) Buddhism. He holds a shakujô ("sounding staff": 錫杖), a ringed staff used in prayer. (The jingling of the rings alerts small "sentient" beings to scurry from the monk's path. The sound also announces the presence of a monk in need of alms from any believers he might be passing.)
The three slips of paper all read "(Kôbô) Daishi henrojo kongobuji", a common mantra in Shingon Buddhism. Especially interesting is what appears, in Shunsen's print, to be the further contrast between the world of spirit, as exemplified by the teachings of esoteric Buddhism, versus earthly passion, involving, it seems, Baikô's character in love with a priest or pilgrim.
- Amy Reigle Stevens, The New Wave: Twentieth-century Japanese prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection. Leiden: Hotei Japanese Prints, 1993, p. 161.
- Toledo Museum of Art, Fresh Impressions: Early Modern Japanese Prints. Toledo, 2013, p. 179.
- Chris Uhlenbeck, Amy Reigle Newland, Maureen de Vries, Waves of renewal: Modern Japanese prints, 1900 to 1960. Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2016, p. 180.
- Ukiyo-e kabuki gi hanga: Shunsen Natori (The Skill of Natori Shunsen in Kabuki Prints). Kushigata Municipal Shunsen Museum, Kushigata, Japan, 1991.
- Natori Shunsen, Collection of Kushigata Shunsen Museum of Art, 2002, p. 41, fig. 87, and p. 181.