known, as Utagawa Kunisada, the Japanese woodcut block
artist was recognized more as Utagawa Toyokuni II.
Of all Ukiyo-e style artists in the 19th
century, Toyokuni III was considered the most popular, most
financially successful, and definitely most prolific.
While there were many other exceptional painters
during this same time to include Kuniyoshi and Hiroshige,
Toyokuni III ranked at the top.
Toward the completion of the Edo period, three of the
most spectacular Japanese woodcut artists in Edo, which is
today’s Tokyo, were Kunisada, Hiroshige, and Kuniyoshi.
While these three were top representatives of
Japanese prints, collectors from the United States and
Europe deemed these same prints inferior during the latter
part of the 19th century and the start of the 20th
fact, many collectors viewed the work as a direct link to
the downfall of woodblock prints using the Ukiyo-e styling.
However, the 40 years, spanning 1930 to 1970 involved
works from Kuniyoshi and Hiroshige being reconsidered.
This time, the results were quite different with both
artists being labeled as sheer geniuses, masters of this
special art. As
far as Kunisada, little is known about his life other than
him being born in Honjo in 1786.
His family owned a simple ferry service and while
this left the family financially stable, the father was
interested in writing poetry.
Unfortunately, one year after Kunisada’s life, his
father passed away, leaving the young baby with just one
To help him with the pain and challenges of being
raised by just one
parent, Kunisada began to sketch, only to discover his
amazing talent. In
fact, the renowned master, Toyokuni from the Utagawa School,
was so impressed that he brought Kunisada on board to teach.
At that time, Kunisada was given his new name
according to Japanese custom - Utagawa Toyokuni II, which
took the first part of his master’s name coupled with the
first part of his name.
The result was “Toyokuni”, which then added the
II, again, after the master.
While Toyokuni actually had some of his work
published in 1807, his full-sized prints did not show up
until around 1810. During
this entire time, Toyokuni works faithfully on woodblock
print illustrated books as well.
His style and attention to detail made him a popular
Interestingly, Toyokuni’s focus, natural ability,
and exceptional teaching by his master soon had him being
thought of as an equal to the master when it came to book
illustrations, something no other Japanese artist had
trend-setting ways made him a fascinating artist to watch
and to immolate. Although
this incredible artist died in 1865 although his name lives
on even today.