Osaka theatrical practice—unlike Edo's—permitted actors to move freely between the "middle theaters" (chû-shibai) and the "big theaters" (ô-shibai). Onoe Tamizô II (1799–1886) enjoyed a long career and a devoted following, especially in the chû-shibai. The son of a theater hairdresser, he was skilled at dance and versatile enough to take on a range of roles. When the young Tamizô returned to Osaka in 1823 after a three-year absence under the tutelage of Onoe Kikugorô III (1784–1849) in Edo, a number of artists working in nearly identical styles in the circle of Gatôken (Toryûken) Shunshi (画登軒春芝) began featuring Tamizô in their prints. By the 1830s, Tamizô was regularly performing in the ô-shibai, notably the Kado and Naka theaters.
This is Hokuei's first deluxe production and his inaugural collaboration with the eminent block carver Yama Kasuke (山嘉助). In this instance, they produced the artist's first bona fide masterpiece. It is also the artist's earliest known portrait of Tamizô.
Chigo Takimaru stands within a whirlwind he has conjured as his robes whip about in the vortex. Using magical powers to control the elements of nature, he positions his hands in a sorcerer's gesture. The actor's robes are depicted in elaborate detail, their saturated colors accented by metallic pigments, setting him apart from the monochromatic swirls of the maelstrom. As pure design, this is a remarkable example of Osaka printmaking at its finest.
Hokuei's deluxe portrait of Tamizô is rare and quite difficult to acquire. We have seen only a few impressions in over 30 years of collecting.
References: IKBYS-II, no. 257; KNP-VI, p. 228