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4 september 2020 

Rare Preparatory Drawings For an Unknown Kunisada Handscroll

In preparation for prints or paintings, ukiyo-e artists would make preparatory sketches on thin paper. The final drawing would then be copied by a professional copyist. This ‘copy’ would be pasted face down to the key block, the first block to be carved for a print.

Use of Pentimenti

In the case of a handscroll, preparatory sketches could be used for tracing the final work or as a guide. Common to both types of drawing, however, is the use of pentimenti, or the pasting of small pieces of transparent paper over areas that require correction.

Imagined Copulation Scenes

Below a group of six drawings by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) that were acquired by the British Museum a couple of years ago and come from the Ferdinand Bertholet collection, and are dated c.1825. They are most probably preparatory drawings for a great painted handscroll portraying kabuki actors in imagined copulation scenes.

Passionate Kabuki Actors

This subject, although a finished scroll including all the scenes is unknown to this day, signifies the position of kabuki actors within society, and a curiosity with every aspect about their lives, extending to fantasy images of them in passionate situations.



The theme of this drawing is the rivalry between Fuwa Banzaemon and Nagoya Sanzaburō for the love of Katsuragi, a high-ranking courtesan (oiran) of the Shimabara quarter in Kyoto. On the right Sanzaburō, played by Ichikawa Danjūrō VII (1791-1859), is having sex with Katsuragi.

Sounds of Sex

He has disguised himself as Banzaemon by assuming the latter’s distinctive robe with a design of swallows. On the left, the ‘real’ Banzaemon, played by Onoe Kikugorō III (11784-1849), hides behind a folding screen painted with the popular Lucky Gods Daikoku and Ebisu. As he listens to the sounds of sex, he himself becomes impressively aroused.

Concealed Signature

A concealed signature on the screen, ‘Picture by Kokuteisai Hanabusa Ittai’, gives a rare alternate name used by Kunisada at this time. Indicating his affiliation to the painting line of Hanabusa Itchō (1652-1724).



Onoe Kikugoro III as workman making love to woman beside a bed-quilt.


Preparatory Drawings

Eleven Actors

Scene of eleven actors fighting with one another to make love to one female. Including inscription (lower left).



Travellers under a tree watched by foxes.


Gay Encounter

Here we witness a gay encounter with the actor Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Benkei (below), having sex with an unidentified female role specialist (onnagata) as Ushiwaka-maru, as the latter looks at a shunga picture; Benkei’s weapons lie on the ground to one side.


Danjuro VII

Ichikawa Danjuro VII and woman making love on a mat; a round fan (uchiwa) bearing Danjuro’s ‘triple rice measure’ (mimasu) crest to the side.

Click HERE for an article on rare egoyomi (Calendar print) by Hokusai with one of them depicting an actor from the Ichikawa Danjuro line…!!

Source: British Museum/ Rosina Buckland

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About the author
Marijn is the founder of With more then 20 years of experience within the sensual and erotic art of shunga he is an authority in the genre. During this time he served many customers with complementing their art collection.


on 4 September 2020

Sketches and preparatory work of any kind are always a delight that allow one to enter the mind of the artist and the artist's creative processes, and these are no exception. Great find!



on 4 September 2020

Quite true JB, one can't get any closer to the artist. You can see him exploring!

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