Profile at a Glance:
Work primarily dedicated to full-length portraits
Subject in his woodblock prints featured Kabuki actors, Binjin-ga, and young children
Produced many memorable designs, is particularly remembered for his designs spanning more than one sheet in format
Instrumental in evolving nigao-eportraiture that would eclipse contemporary artists of the Katsukawa school, Utagawa Toyokuni was a woodblock print artist born in 1769 in Edo.
The son of a doll and puppet carver, Toyokuni first studied under Utagawa Toyoharu in 1783 at the age of fourteen. Over the next three decades, Toyokuni mastered painting techniques of the Utagawa school.
Throughout the 1790s, he developed a stylistic representation of Kabuki actors in dramatic, full-length poses, as seen in the print series Views of Actors Onstage, 1794–1796.
By the turn of the century, Toyokuni had exploded in popularity, allowing him to include additional subjects in his prints such as bijin, young children, and lively humor. He further adopted two young pupils: Utagawa Toyoshige, his son-in-law, and Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III).
After the death of his mentor in 1814, Toyokuni assumed the position as head of the Utagawa school and adopted the go, or artist name, Utagawa. He continued to work with firebrand intensity, producing prints of actors in roll and offstage, as well as a 'how-to' manual of actor portraits entitled, "Quick Instruction in the Drawing of Actor Likeness," 1817.
Toyokuni also stressed the need to accurately identify the most striking features of an actor's face, in keeping with the nigao-eportraiture of the rivaling Katsukawa school. Moreover, his professional success allowed his two pupils dominion over print production in Edo; although Utagawa Toyoharu had founded the Utagawa school, it was Toyokuni who solidified its reputation. The prolific artist passed away on February 24, 1825, at the age of fifty-six.
Toyokuni | Three Geisha's Japanese woodblock
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