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Toyokuni III (AKA Kunisada, 1786 - 1864)

Onoe Kikugoro III as the Ghost of Yasukata: Poem by Nakatsukasa

Series: Mitate Thirty-six Selected Poems
Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: 1852
Size (H x W): 14.25 x 9.5 (inches)
Publisher: Iseya Kanekichi
Seals: Date, Watanabe (censor seal)
Signature: Toyokuni ga
Condition: Very good color, impression and state, visible woodgrain, slightly trimmed on right edge, tiny pin hole.

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The father of Uto Yasukata was forced to commit suicide for supporting the powerful warrior Masakado, who had been defeated and killed by the imperial troops. Yasukata swore to avenge his father's death.

His ghost was said to haunt the surroundings of Masakado's castle, usually, as in this print, during turbulent weather. The flickering flame on the left represents the spirit-fire of the deceased, frequently associated with those who have been unjustly wronged in life.

About the artist

View works signed Kunisada

Toyokuni III, also known as Kunisada, was born in the Honjo district of Edo as Kunisada Tsunoda. Kunisada’s family owned a small hereditary ferryboat service. Though his father, an amateur poet, died when Kunisada was a child, the family business provided some financial security. During his childhood, he showed considerable promise in painting and drawing. Due to strong familial ties with literary and theatrical circles, he spent time studying actor portraits.

At age 14, he was admitted to study under Toyokuni, head of the Utagawa school. Kunisada’s ukiyo-e woodblock prints embody the characteristics of the Utagawa school, focusing on traditional subjects such as kabuki, bijin (beautiful women), shunga (erotic prints), and historical prints. Kunisada's first known woodblock print dates to 1807, his first illustrated book to 1808. His career took off from the beginning. Many of his works became overnight successes and he was considered the “star attraction” of the Utagawa school. He signed his works “Kunisada,” sometimes with the studio names of Gototei and Kochoro affixed. In 1844, he adopted the name of his teacher and became Toyokuni III. Kunisada passed away in 1864 in the same neighborhood that he was born. He was 70 years old. Kunisada was a highly popular, and the most active, Japanese ukiyo-e artist of the 19th century. In his time, his reputation surpassed those of his contemporaries Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi.