Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川 国芳, 1798-1861) was born into the Igusa family in Edo as the son of silk dyer. Little is known about his very early years; Kuniyoshi began his ukiyo-e career as a pupil of Shunei. At age 14 he was accepted to study the art of woodblock printing under Toyokuni I and would become one of his most successful students. In 1814 he left Toyokuni’s studio to pursue a career as an independent Japanese ukiyo-e artist.
Initially he had little success, selling tatami mats in order to support himself. His fortunes changed in 1827 with his dramatic series “108 Heroes of the Suikoden”. From that point on the public sought out his portrayals of famous samurai and legendary heroes. Kuniyoshi worked in all genres, producing some brilliant landscapes and charming bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women). He died in the spring of 1861 from complications of a stroke.