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Reference » Ukiyo-e »  Artists Biographies

Kunisada I Utagawa 1786-1864

Kunisada Utagawa (1786-1865) is one of the greatest and successful Japanese printmaking artists in the 19th century. He is best known for his Kabuki actor and Beauty woodblock prints. 

Kunisada was talented in drawings as a child and went into the Utagawa School whose master was Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825), one of the most popular Ukiyo-e artists in this era. He was given his name, Kunisada and Go as Ichiyusai, later Gototei. His first art works were seen around 1802; Beauty in tanzaku (oblong) format. Abound 1827 Kunisada had a new artist name, Kochoro. During the period he produced majority of Beauty and actor prints on O-ban single paper with simple but dynamic figures. It is said that his Beauty had significant distinctive style which none of artists created before. The distorted figures of females made them look amorous and seductive.  Around 1844, he called himself as ‘Toyokuni II’, however, he was officially known as Toyokuni III. The idea came from his ambition and desire that he wished to be the second best after Toyokuni I.

Between 1829 and 1843 the artist worked on a major collaboration piece which was a book illustration of Genji-e called ‘Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji’ written by Ryutei Tanehiko. It was a successful production that the artist continued to create Genji series, this time, on O-ban size format.

Kunisada was very productive; it is assumed that he designed more than 20,000 individual prints. His first preference was Kabuki and actor prints, which consists of more than half of his works. He increased numbers of Kabuki actor prints, especially, after he changed his name to ‘Toyokuni III’ that his studio became a mass production factory.  Nonetheless Kunisada succeeded the Utagawa School’s speciality as it is famous for actors and made the School even bigger and prestige. 

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