UTAGAWA KUNIYOSHI (1798-1861)

Kuniyoshi was born in Edo and was said to have shown remarkable talent from a young age. Kuniyoshi's father dyed silk, so his family was not wealthy. As a 14-year-old, Kuniyoshi got his start as a disciple during Toyokuni I, in fierce competition with the 10 years older and very successful Kunisada… this spurred Kuniyoshi, but he did not break through until he was almost 30 years old. Kuniyoshi would eventually become one of Toyokuni's most remarkable students, despite the competition with Kunisada. Kunisada had seized the Kabuki artists and the beautiful women, so Kuniyoshi had to find his own niche. Kuniyoshi began as an independent artist in 1814, but was forced to sell tatami mats to support himself.


The turning point came 1827, when Kuniyoshi was commissioned to illustrate some Chinese hero legends from the Ming Dynasty, which were about 108 heroic bandits and is said to be based on real events from the 13th century. It was a great success: "One Hundreds and eight heroes of the popular Water Margin"/”108 Heroes of the Suikoden". He was called "Kuniyoshi of the Warrior Prints". The tattoos his characters wear became highest fashion, and Kuniyoshi suddenly became a very popular and esteemed ukiyo-e artist.


He began to create historical epic scenes, and also worked with spectacular effects and bizarre characters. From now on, the public hungered for his depictions of famous samurai and legendary heroes. Kuniyoshi became extremely skilled at portraying the warrior, the samurai, in movement, in battle, in the field, but also reflected the soul of the samurai. Some of his iconic works are "Tametomo and his Son Rescued from the Sea Monster by Tengu" to "Princess Takiyasha and the Skeleton Specter".


Kuniyoshi was also a satirist and became such a popular figure that he also appeared as a character in kabuki plays. Kuniyoshi sometimes would draw himself in the pictures, but then with a hidden face turned away. He was much liked by his students, who brought his style into the 20th century.


The term ukiyo-e often represents elegant courtesans and picturesque landscapes, Kuniyoshi's work represents another side of the Edo period. Kuniyoshi portrayed a fantasy world of warriors, ghosts and heroes. Kuniyoshi's talent could express many motives, but most famously, he became known for his depictions of war and hero samurai, in which epic battles determined the fate of the empire and fierce warriors fought to the death.


Kuniyoshi became one of the great masters of ukiyo-e.

 

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