Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) (1786-1864)
Toyokuni was the most popular, prolific and financially successful designer of ukiyo-e woodblock prints in 19th-century Japan. In his day, his reputation far exceeded that of his contemporaries, Hokusai, Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi.
His family owned a small licensed ferry-boat service and the income derived from this business provided a basic financial security. His father died the year after he was born. While growing up, he developed an early talent for painting and drawing. His early sketches at that time impressed Toyokuni, the great master of the Utagawa school and prominent designer of kabuki and actor-portrait prints. In the year 1800 or shortly thereafter Kunisada was accepted by Toyokuni I as an apprentice. In keeping with a tradition of Japanese master-apprentice relations, he was then given the official artist name of “Kuni-sada”, the first character of which was derived from the second part of the name “Toyo-Kuni”.
Beginning around 1810 Kunisada used the studio name “Gototei”, which refers to his father’s ferry-boat business. Until 1842 this signature appeared on nearly all of his kabuki designs. Around 1825 the studio name “Kochoro” appeared, and was often used on prints not related to kabuki. This name was derived from a combination of the pseudonyms of master painter Hanabusa Itcho, and that of his successor Hanabusa Ikkei, with whom Kunisada had studied a new style of painting around 1824–1825. In 1844, he finally adopted the name of his master Toyokuni I, and for a brief time used the signature “Kunisada becoming Toyokuni II”. Starting in 1844–1845, all of his prints are signed “Toyokuni”, partially with the addition of other studio names as prefixes, such as “Kochoro” and “Ichiyosai”. Although Kunisada referred to himself as “Toyokuni II”, he must be regarded as “Toyokuni III”.
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