Kunisada, also known as Toyokuni III, 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 work embodies the characteristics of the Utagawa school, focusing on traditional subjects such as kabuki, bijin (beautiful women), shunga (erotic prints), and historical prints. His first known print dates to 1807, his first illustrated book to 1808. Kunisada’s 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, ukiyo-e print artist of the 19th century. In his time, his reputation surpassed those of his contemporaries Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi.