Prints in Collection
The actors Iwai Kumesaburō III, Ichikawa Ebizō V and Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII (in a scene from Koi goromo Karigane zome), 1852
IHL Cat. #1185
The actors Ichikawa Danjūrō VIII, Seki Sanjūrō III and Onoe Baikō IV, 1853
IHL Cat. #1186
IHL Cat. #675
Source: The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Woodblock Prints, Amy Reigle Newland, Hotei Publishing Company, 2005, p.502-503; The Japanese Print: A Historical Guide, Hugo Munsterberg, Weatherhill, 1982, p.128-131; The Art of Japanese Prints, Richard Illing, John Calmann & Cooper Ltd., 1980, p. 56-57.
Kunisada was the most prolific and commercially-successful of all woodblock print designers. Although he designed many bijin-ga (prints of beautiful women), kabuki actors were his main specialty and formed about 60% to 70% of his output of over twenty-thousand prints.
Kunisada started his career as a pupil of Toyokuni I (1769-1825) whose name he adopted in 1844, becoming Toyokuni III (三代歌川豊国). While he changed his names several times, he is commonly referred to as Kunisada or Toyokuni III. Kunisada was not only a brilliant print maker but also an excellent business man who had great commercial success.
Kunisada was one of the primary illustrators of popular fiction and developed close ties with prominent literary figures. His first famous series of prints (1828-42) illustrated a whimsical adaptation of the famous 11th-century Genji Monogatori (Tales of Genji) by Murasaki Shikibu, a text he continued to illustrate throughout his career.7
In addition to actor prints (yakusha-e) and book illustrations (kuchi-e), he produced erotic prints (shunga), pictures of beautiful women (bijin-ga), landscapes and privately commissioned prints (surimono.) He died at the age of seventy-eight on January 12, 1865 and worked in Hongo up until his death. His posthumous Buddhist name is Hōkokuin Teishōgasen Shinji and he was buried at the Banshōin Kōunji1, like Toyokuni and Kunisada II after him.8
1 Banshoin Kounji Temple in Kami-Takada (in present-day Tokyo's Nakano Ward).ukiyo-e artists and while his work was much admired by his contemporaries, he was not considered a significant artist by Western critics and his works were often called "inferior" and "decadent". It was not until the early 1990’s, with the appearance of Jan van Doesburg’s overview of the artistic development of Kunisada, and Sebastian Izzard’s extensive study of his work, that this picture began to change, with Kunisada more clearly revealed as one of the “giants” of the Japanese print.9
Utagawa Sadahide (1807-1873), Utagawa Fusatane (active 1854-1888), Utagawa Kunisada II (1823-1880), Utagawa Kuniteru II (1830-1874), Utagawa Kokunimasa (1874-1944) and Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900).
1 Wikipedia website http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunisada
4 The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Woodblock Prints, Amy Reigle Newland, Hotei Publishing Company, 2005, p. 502.
5 The name Toyokuni II had already been taken by Toyoshige (1777-1835), the son-in-law of Toyokuni. In 1844 Kunisada signed several of his prints "Kunisada changing to the second Toyokuni," totally ignoring Toyoshige's claim to the name.
6 A Dictionary of Japanese Artists: Painting, Sculpture, Ceramics, Prints, Lacquer, Laurance P. Roberts, Weatherhill, 1976, p. 96-97.
7 Website of the Crocker Art Museum http://www.crockerartmuseum.org/exhibitions/exhib_pages/Kunisada.htm
8 Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publishers and Masterworks 1680-1900, Andreas Marks, Tuttle Publishing, 2010, p. 120.
9 op cit. Wikipedia
For the most comprehensive presentation of Kunisada's signatures and seals go to http://www.kunisada.de/Liste/kunisada-signature-seal.htmlhttp://www.kunisada.de/ The "Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) - Project" by Horst Graebner provides an overview of Kunisada's work with thousands of pictures, series titles, lists of actors and kabuki dramas portrayed by Kunisada, and detailed study of his artistic names and signatures.
http://www.japansociety.org/kabuki_at_the_time_of_kunisada Japan Society article Kabuki at the Time of Kunisada, J. Thomas Rimer.