Japan art and Utagawa Kunimasa (1773-1810): Yakusha-e

Japan art and Utagawa Kunimasa (1773-1810): Yakusha-e

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese artist Utagawa Kunimasa (1773-1810) was born during the Edo Period. Kunimasa was born in the province of Iwashiro. However, like many artists drawn to Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo (Edo), he also moved to Tokyo to further his career. 

Kunimasa developed under Utagawa Toyokuni from the school of Utagawa. Toyokuni taught many distinguished artists – including Kunisada and Kuniyoshi. Hence, Kunimasa was in good hands during his artistic development.

The British Museum says, “In 1795 and 96, he produced a series of bust portraits of actors based on the style of his teacher, but with a new and fresh character to them. He went on to produce three-quarter-length and full-length portraits. After c. 1804 he almost ceased to work.”

The world of Kabuki actors and themes became a way of life for Kunimasa. Thus yakusha-e (actor prints) portraits prop up heavily when viewing Kunimasa’s work. He also focused on bijin-ga (beautiful person picture – beautiful women) art that depicted stunning women.

Kunimasa was influenced by Toyokuni. While hints of Sharaku’s art abound within some of the artwork of Kunimasa. 

Hence, with Kunimasa dying relatively young, it is hard to know if he would have developed a more independent style. Indeed, by the age of 31, it appears that ill health – and other factors – ended his career (six years later, he would pass away).

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