ANTIQUE - SHUNGA
- EROTIC ART - PRINTS etc.
Utagawa Kunisada: The Successful
From all the Japanese woodblock masters of the
19th Century, the artist Utagawa >
(1786-1865) was probably the most prolific and successful. Born and raised in
Edo (now Tokyo) near the banks of the Sumidagawa river and the well-known
Ryōgoku bridge. Therefore he was familiar with the so-called 'Floating World'
of the urban population and the images of the woodblock prints in which they
were immortalized, from an early age.
Already one year after the birth of Kunisada,
his father passed away. He was a co-owner of a ferry service which sailed
across the Sumida River. In the language of the people this crossing was
called the 'Fifth Ferry' (Gototei) of which the management rights were
inherited by Kunisada. That's why he added the prefix Gototei to many of his
Kunisada's interest in painting and
designing woodblock prints (woodcuts) was developed at an early age
and already before his eighteenth birthday he became a pupil of >
(1769-1825) who had noticed his drawing talent. Soon he freed himself
from his teacher's influence to create his own personal style and from
an early stage it became clear that Kunisada would take over the
Utagawa school, as Toyokuni III.
From the series 'Toyokuni kigo kijutsu kurabe' The actor
Ichikawa Kodanji IV as Hokezan Kesataro, 1863
From the large quantity of prints designed by
Kunisada the majority are actor prints (kabuki-e). This is not
surprising because during his lifetime the public interest for the kabuki
theater was huge. The subjects of the woodblock prints were not only limited
to the depiction of the actors on stage but also the life behind the scenes
and in the dressing rooms were depicted. Often the design was extended by
using several consecutive prints in diptychs, triptychs or even pentaptychs.
Portraits of actors in the many roles of
legendary figures were depicted by Kunisada in the full force of their
appearance on stage. He strove to achieve a good likeness immediately
recognizable to the public. Due to the originality and vitality of his designs
Kunisada's work was very popular amongst the theater audience.
Kunisada also excelled in the other popular
genre bijin-ga which depicted woman portraits. His naturalistic
rendering of women differs from the idealized view of his predecessors. He
gave his images of female figures a vivid and realistic allure by also paying
attention to the natural and physical environment of his subjects. The
accurate depiction of the furniture, the living-room and everyday objects
created an atmosphere that felt more familiar and natural to the public of the
Edo period. Kunisada injected new impulses in his female portraits by not only
focusing on the circles of courtesans but also to draw attention to the beauty
of teahouse servants and housewives.
From the series 'Genji of the East (Charm of
Flowers and Birds), 1837
With the exception of the landscape print,
Kunisada was familiar with all the other aspects of form and content within
Ukiyo-e*. He illustrated countless popular novels and in the 1820s and 1830s
he also designed a lot of surimono (small deluxe prints) and shunga
(erotic prints). Compared to the wretched final years of >
(1760-1849) and Eisen (1790-1848), Kunisada was blessed with a happy
life indeed. Showing no signs of age, he continued to produce illustrations
for serial novels for many years thereafter until, in January of 1865, this
mild-mannered yet energetic woodblock master closed his eyes to sleep forever.
* literally "pictures of the floating
| "Higashi no kata Koyanagi" (Sumo
wrestler Koyanagi to the east), c.1844