Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Utagawa Kuniyoshi (ca. 1797 - April 14, 1861) was one of the last great masters of the Japanese ukiyo-e style of woodblock prints and painting and belonged to the Utagawa school. He was born in 1797, the son of a silk-dyer, originally named Yoshisaburō. He assisted his father’s business as a pattern designer, and some have suggested that this experience influenced his rich use of color and textile patterns in prints. Yoshisaburō proved his drawing talents at age 12, quickly attracting the attention of the famous ukiyo-e print master Utagawa Toyokuni. He was officially admitted to Toyokuni’s studio in 1811, and became one of his chief pupils. He remained an apprentice until 1814, at which time he was given the name “Kuniyoshi” and set out as an independent artist.
During the 1820s, Kuniyoshi produced a number of heroic triptychs that show the first signs of an individual style. In 1827 he received his first major commission for the series based on a popular Chinese tale. In this series, Kuniyoshi illustrated individual heroes on single-sheets, drawing tattoos on his heroes, a novelty which soon influenced Edo fashion. The Suikoden series became extremely popular in Edo, and the demand for Kuniyoshi’s warrior prints increased, gaining him entrance into the major ukiyō-e and literary circles. His warrior prints were unique in that they depicted legendary popular figures with an added stress on dreams, ghostly apparitions, omens, and superhuman feats.