Kunisada I, Utagawa

Utagawa Kunisada I (1786 – 1865), also known as Toyokuni III, was a prominent Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock print artist who lived during the Edo period. His birth name was Sumida Shōgorō, and he later adopted the art name Toyokuni when he became a student of Toyokuni I, his first and most significant teacher. Kunisada’s artistic career spanned several decades, and he played a crucial role in the development of the ukiyo-e genre.

Kunisada’s early training under Toyokuni I, a respected ukiyo-e artist, greatly influenced his artistic style. Toyokuni I was a master of kabuki actor prints (yakusha-e), and this focus on theater and actors became a distinctive feature of Kunisada’s work. Kunisada’s prints often depicted actors in dramatic roles, showcasing his mastery of capturing facial expressions and emotions. His ability to convey the essence of kabuki performances contributed to his popularity during his time.

Throughout his career, Kunisada had numerous students who went on to make significant contributions to the ukiyo-e tradition. Notable among his students was Kunisada II, who continued the artistic legacy and adopted the name Toyokuni II. The relationship between Kunisada and his students was not merely that of teacher and pupil; it was a collaborative and dynamic exchange that shaped the evolution of ukiyo-e. Kunisada’s influence extended beyond his immediate students, impacting the broader ukiyo-e movement.

One of Kunisada’s notable styles was his mastery of bijin-ga, or images of beautiful women. He skillfully portrayed women in various roles and settings, emphasizing their grace and elegance. His bijin-ga prints became highly sought after and contributed to the broader popularity of ukiyo-e as an art form. Kunisada’s versatility is also evident in his landscapes and historical scenes, showcasing his ability to capture a wide range of subjects.