Utagawa Toyokuni I

Japanese , 1769 - 1825

Utagawa Toyokuni, the son of a puppet maker, was born in 1769. As a student of Toyoharu, he studied printmaking, concentrating on bijin-ga: traditional images of beautiful women. Toyokuni’s success came when he started producing prints of actor portraits and actor scenes.

Kabuki theaters were very popular at the time and the actors themselves were public icons. As a result, prints related to Kabuki were in high demand and much of the demand came from the theaters, for advertising material and actor portraits. Toyokuni is sometimes mentioned as the founder of the Utagawa School, an institution that flourished as the demand for actor prints grew larger. Toyokuni went into mass production and found great success.

After the death of Toyokuni in 1825, two of his students rivaled over the position of successor. The argument was less about who was the best ukiyo-e designer than it was about who would gain control of a successful business company-the Utagawa School. A student named Toyoshige won the fight, but died 10 years later. From then on, Kunisada, (the other student), took on Toyokuni’s name. Today Kunisada is referred to as Toyokuni III, Toyoshige as Toyokuni II, and the master as Toyokuni I.
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