Born in 1885, Yamamura Toyonari is best known for his prints and paintings of Kabuki actors. He studied with Ogata Gekko, a Meiji painter and printmaker. In 1907, Toyonari graduated from the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, and during the same year, he exhibited at the first government sponsored Bunten show.
Toyonari designed several small actor prints for the series “New Actor Portraits” in 1915. The blocks were carved by Igami Bonkotsu, and several other artists contributed to the project, including Torii Kotondo, Ishii Hakutei and Natori Shunsen. The goal of the project was to gain attention for the Kabuki theater.
In 1916, Watanabe Shozaburo saw one of Toyonari’s paintings and was so impressed that he asked Toyonari to create a woodblock print based on the painting. The two artists continued to collaborate on many more actor prints and in 1920, Toyonari began producing his well- known series of 12 actor prints, “Flowers of the Theatrical World”. Initially, each design was produced in an edition of 150 prints and they were made in the okubi-e format. In 1923, the blocks for Toyonari’s prints were destroyed in an earthquake and as a result, these prints are quite hard to come by. In the years after the earthquake, it seems that Toyonari moved on to different subject matter and his collaboration with Watanabe ended.
In 1924, Toyonari carved and published the print, “Shanghai Café Dancers”, a work that embodied the spirit of the Roaring Twenties. It was one of the first Japanese prints to address the extreme social changes that were taking place in the country at the time. Throughout his career, Toyonari is said to have produced about 30 woodblocks, sixteen of which were published by Watanabe. In addition to woodblock, he also worked in the lithograph medium.