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One of the greatest printmakers of the 18th century was Toyokuni Utagawa.  Known for his ukiyo-e (printmaking) of actors and beautiful women, he has best influenced the generation of ukiyo-e designers that followed him.  He was the head of his school Utagawa.  This was a school that was composed of Japanese printmakers that are also commonly called woodblock artists.  His pupils knew Utagawa as Toyokuni I.  The reason was so that he could be distinguished from the rest of his students who followed quite closely in his artwork footsteps.  

Toyokuni was born in 1769 and was the son of a doll carver and puppet maker -Kurohashi Gorobei.  By the age of 14, Toyokuni was apprenticed to a trusted friend of his fathers.  This man was Toyoharu Utagawa and was the head of the Utagawa household.  Toyokuni studied printmaking, and as his career began he spent most of his concentration on the images of beautiful women; this is known as bijin-ga.  Toyokunis early works were known to be influenced by Shigemasa and Kiyonaga.  Toyokuni later took on the name Utagawa in honor of his teacher.  It was not uncommon for an apprentice to take one syllable from their teachers name and add it as apart of theirs.  Many of Toyokunis students did the same with his. 

Toyokunis success arrived with his creations of actor portraits and scenes.  The famous Kabuki theatres of the time had the best-known actors who were seen as icons to the public.  This meant that any prints related to the Kabuki theatres were in high demand.  There were hundreds of requests for advertising material from the theatres, and the fans wanted the actor portraits.  This printmaking of the actors is basically the same idea as todays movie and celebrity posters.  It wasnt long before the demand for these prints went beyond Toyokunis ability to produce.  This is when the Utagawa School would shine.  Within a few weeks the school was alive with students producing countless prints and book illustrations; it was said that there are records of 29 students who were taught under Toyokuni.  Among all of Utagawas pupils, the most famous in woodprint design were Kunisada and Kuniyoshi.  They were also apart of the group of pupils that were with Toyokuni when he died in 1825. - As a side note, it was not Toyokuni who founded the school of Utagawa, it was his teacher Toyoharu; however, it was Toyokuni who made it a success with the actor prints. 

The interesting fact about Toyokuni was that it wasnt so much that he had a genius in his work, as it was his commitment to create a new style from the great artists that had come before him.  It was through this study, that Toyokuni Utagawa achieved his brilliance in printmaking.  His actor prints were not seen as just simple pictures, but were prints that bore the markings of real life.

 

Geishas Kabuki Theatre
Sumo Wrestling The Castles of Japan
 
The Great Wave by Hokusai
The Great Wave by Hokusai
Code:fw1002
Price:$27.95
Kabuki by Utagawa
Kabuki by Utagawa
Code:fw1121
Price:$27.95
3 Beauties by Utamaro
3 Beauties by Utamaro
Code:fw1118
Price:$27.95
General in Battle by Utagawa
General in Battle by Utagawa
Code:fw1120
Price:$27.95
Mt Fuji by Hiroshige
Mt Fuji by Hiroshige
Code:fw1010
Price:$27.95
 

 


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