Nakamura Shikan II (1796-1852; 二代目中村芝翫) was the son of an Edo teahouse owner. He studied with his uncle Fujima Kanjûro I, a master choreographer, and worked as one himself in 1807, which prepared him for his mature dance performances of hengemono. These were "transformation pieces" (変化物), a sequence of brief dance pieces in which one actor performs various roles of a contrasting nature. In 1811, while working as Nakamura Fujitarô, he took lodgings in the home of Nakamura Utaemon III, and then, in 1813, he changed his name to Nakamura Tsurusuke and performed in the smaller theaters in Osaka. He was a large man with a commanding stage presence, which was well suited to roles in jidaimono ("period pieces" or history plays: 時代物), most of all jidaimono on the grand scale. While working as the zagashira (head of a kabuki troupe or company: 座頭) at the Nakamura Theater, Edo, in 1827, his lavish lifestyle caught the disapproving eye of the bakufu (lit., "tent government": 幕府), which placed him under house arrest for violating the shogunate's sumptuary edicts. He ultimately assumed leadership of the Utaemon lineage in 1836 when he was formally adopted (for the purpose of succession) by Utaemon III (三代目中村歌右衛門), thereby becoming Utaemon IV (四代目中村歌右衛門). Like his adoptive father, he excelled as a kaneru yakusha (all-around actor: 兼ねる役者), a highly skilled performed of a wide variety of role types. Although he did not quite attain the exalted status of Utaemon III, he nevertheless possessed the ability required to play the many kinds of characters in hengemono and quick-changes (hayagawari: 早替) with convincing realism and stylized grace.
Paintings and drawings from Kamigata have survived in very small numbers and thus are difficult to find. The example offered here is a particularly expressive depiction of Shikan II away from the stage. The alert facial expression and gesture of the right hand are skillfully rendered.
There is a notation reading nashi ("nothing") near the right foot.