Japan art and Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)

Japan art and Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Internationally, in the world of Japanese ukiyo-e, the woodblock prints of Hokusai, Hiroshige, Utamaro, and a few others are the most famous artists of this art form. However, during the lifetime of Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865), his reputation was higher than Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Kuniyoshi in Japan. 

Thus Kunisada outsold other ukiyo-e artists in the nineteenth century. This speaks volumes about the power of kabuki in Japan and how Kunisada connected with this important market – along with the prolific nature of Kunisada. 

The Toshidama Gallery says, “Many people rely on the old definition of ukiyo for an explanation of the characteristics of Ukiyo-e (woodblock prints)… Asai Ryoi described his world in 1661 as: Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating; … refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current: this is what we call the floating world…”

Kunisada showed great talent when young concerning drawing and painting. Hence, Toyokuni was impressed by the skills. In time, he would study under Toyokuni. 

The British Museum says, “The leading ‘Ukiyoe’ artist of the late Edo period, Kunisada was active for a long time as the central figure in the Utagawa School. He is said to have produced the largest number of works of any ‘Ukiyoe’ artist. Particularly notable are his stylish, oddly bewitching prints of women of the 1820s and 30s and the fresh, new style of his actor prints.”

Kunisada focused on the economic angle of ukiyo-e. Thus he milked the popularity of kabuki and individual actors. However, doing so view landscapes hindered his appeal internationally.

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