The son of a puppet sculptor, Toyokuni was born and worked in Edo. Entering the studio of Toyoharu at the age of 14, Toyokuni drew inspiration from the famous contemporary artists around him, particularly from the great Utamaro. Toyokuni produced elegant courtesans, fine actor prints, book illustrations, and paintings. He had a strong reputation during his lifetime and taught a host of talented students, including Kunisada and Kuniyoshi.
Considered one of the most influential ukiyo-e artists, Toyokuni catapulted the Utagawa school to fame and completed remarkable work depicting beautiful women and kabuki actors. During the early 1790s, his works focused on courtesans. His beauties bear an elegance and idealism indicative of the period. These works set a standard for bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women) to come. Through the 1790s and 1800s, Toyokuni not only captured actors’ stage roles, but also their private lives and individual personalities in his yakusha-e (actor prints).
“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” - Aristotle