Kabuki 歌舞伎 The 19th Century Japanese Ukiyo-e

Toyohara Kunichika (豊原国周, 1835–1900). Possibly a scene from the play Pictures of Our Home at Kagamiyama (加賀見山旧錦絵).
Toyohara Kunichika (豊原国周, 1835–1900). Possibly a scene from the play Pictures of Our Home at Kagamiyama (加賀見山旧錦絵).

From 29 February to 19 April 2020, the exhibition Kabuki 歌舞伎. The 19th Century Japanese Ukiyo-e will be held at the Art Museum RIGA BOURSE in Riga (Doma laukums 6), featuring the actors of kabuki theatre in coloured woodblock prints or ukiyo-e from Japan’s Edo period. The works are from the collection of the Latvian National Museum of Art.

Sword fights and other tense subjects, ghosts, human-size rats, expressive make-up and gestures emphasizing the emotions of the actors, and colourful costumes are only a small part of the world that can be viewed in the works of this exhibition. It is life as performed by kabuki actors, in Japan’s Edo period (1603–1868).

There are about 380 exhibits in the collection of Japanese graphics at the Latvian National Museum of Art, with the largest number being ukiyo-e – a genre of graphics, which can be literally translated as the “pictures of the floating world”. Ukiyo-e masters mainly portrayed kabuki theatre actors, beautiful women, sumo wrestlers, warriors, scenes from history and folk tales, travelling scenes, landscapes, nature and animals, as well as works of erotic nature. In this way, they revealed the energy-filled popular culture of the Edo period, which flourished in the largest Japanese cities. The works in the museum collection mostly relate to the kabuki theatre theme.

Kabuki is a traditional form of Japanese theatre which was created and matured in the Edo period and combined singing, music, dance, and drama. Along with the noh and bunraku theatres, kabuki is recognized as one of the three main forms of classical Japanese theatre and is included in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Kabuki initially developed as a theatre which expressed the interests of the middle class or merchants with the actors presenting their performances on everyday themes, historical events and the resolution of moral ethical issues. The portrayals by the kabuki theatre actors were the most highly demanded among the fans of the ukiyo-e artists and actors.

The works of three productive and commercially successful artists from the 19th century can be seen at the exhibition – Utagawa Kunisada (歌川国貞, 1786–1865), who was also one of the leading trendsetters in his field, Kunisada’s student and active portrayer of kabuki actors, Toyohara Kunichika (豊原国周, 1835–1900) and Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳, 1797–1861), one of the last great Japanese ukiyo-e masters.

The visitors of the exhibition have the possibility to discover more about the various elements of kabuki theatre by watching the film 歌舞伎 KABUKI. Japan’s Classical Theatre (1964), this documentary is from the collection of Science Film Museum in Japan.

Text by Kristīne Milere

Kristīne Milere
, Exhibition Curator, Art Museum RIGA BOURSE / Latvian National Museum of Art
Ph: (+371) 60 001344, E: Kristine.Milere@lnmm.lv

Preparation of the collection for exhibition:

Valentīna Opolā, Curator of the Graphic Art Collection, Art Museum RIGA BOURSE /
Latvian National Museum of Art

Una Kastanovska, Head of the Conservation Department / Latvian National Museum of Art

Inga Rozefelde, Work of Art on Paper Conservator / Latvian National Museum of Art

Arvils Vilkaušs, Framing Specialist / Latvian National Museum of Art

Japanese culture and language:
Mg. paed. Uģis Nastevičs, Japanese translator, guide

Visual identity:
Kristīne Jansone, Visual Communication Specialist, Art Museum RIGA BOURSE / Latvian National Museum of Art


  • Lilita Pudule, Curator of Education, Art Museum RIGA BOURSE / Latvian National Museum of Art
  • Vita Ozoliņa, Curator of Education, Art Museum RIGA BOURSE / Latvian National Museum of Art
  • Sandra Ķempele, Curator of Education, Art Museum RIGA BOURSE / Latvian National Museum of Art

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Art Museum RIGA BOURSE / Doma laukums 6, Riga, Latvia

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays 10.00–18.00, ticket office 10.00–17.45
Fridays 10.00–20.00, ticket office 10.00–19.45
Closed on Mondays

The museum is closed on all public holidays: 1 January, Good Friday, Easter, Midsummer Eve and Day (23–24 June), Christmas (25–26 December), 31 December.


Reduced individual admission fee for groups of 10 or more people.
Free admission for the person in charge of the group.

Adults: 3,50 EUR
Schoolchildren, students, seniors: 2,00 EUR
Family ticket (1–2 adults with 1–4 children or family having many children): 5,00–7,00 EUR
Free admission for LNMA Annual ticket holders.

Free entry is also for: pre-school children; orphans or children not under parental care (valid status identification card required); children with a disability up to 18 years, 1st and 2nd group disabled persons (valid status identification card required) and one person accompanying either a child with a disability up to 18 years or a 1st or 2nd group disabled person; pupils of Latvian art schools or professional secondary art schools (valid status identification card required); full-time students of the Art Academy of Latvia (valid status identification card required); students attending institutions of professional secondary education or colleges who are studying or receiving training in visual or applied art, design, cultural history, museology, architecture, restoration as part of their studies or training (on submission of a written application to the museum director at least one day earlier); employees of Latvian museums (valid status identification card required); members of the International Council of Museums (ICOM, valid status membership card required); members of the Latvian Artists’ Union (valid status identification card required); Friend of the LNMA card holders; media representatives who are covering museum events (valid status identification card required); group (no less than 10 persons) leaders – guides or teachers; everyone on the international event Museum Night from 19.00; all visitors to the permanent display on the last Sunday of every month and on International Museum Day – 18th May.


Press release prepared by:
Natalie Suyunshalieva
Head of Press
The Latvian National Museum of Art
Ph: (+371) 67 357527
E: pr.service@lnmm.lv 
I: www.lnmm.lv