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Kunichika Toyohara

Kunichika Toyohara

Portrait Toyohara Kunichika

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900)

Born June 30 1835, named Oshima Yasohachi, Kunichika was the son of a public bathhouse proprietor that was based in the artisan area of the Kyobashi district of Edo (former name of Tokyo). His father, a poor businessman, lost his bathhouse and so he took his maiden name to be called Arakawa Yasohachi.
19th Kyobashi
Kyobashi District in 19thC Japan
Aged ten, although he became an apprentice to a thread and yarn store, he had a love for the arts, and when his older brother opened a picture shop, where he helped out creating illustrations. Around the age of 12, he commenced his studies with the woodblock print artist Chikanobu, from whom he received his artist name. Following this, he proceeded to train under the artist Kunisada, an artist known for creating actor prints, and the most prolific artist of this genre in this period.
He continued to thrive and in guides rating ukiyoe prints, he would appear in the top ten sevearl times. He was revered as one of Kunisada’s most esteemed students. When his master passed away in 1865, the memorial print contained pomes written by his top three students of which one was that written by Kunichika.
Kunisada Memorial Print

Memorial Print of Kunisada - Kunichika's Master

The bold new scarlet red colors of aniline dyes is a feature of Kunichika's works which he utilised to create his dramatic artwork. With his passion for the kabuki theatre, Kunichika often sketched actors, regularly spending time backstage as he watched the plays and observing his subjects. This passion soon gave him the recognition as an artist in this genre. Besides his kabuki actor prints, he also created historical prints and journalistic illustrations.
Before the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Kunichika was chosen by the Japanese government to present his work at the 1867 World Exhibition in Paris.
Universal Exhibition Paris

World Exhibition in Paris (1867)

Described as having an open and friendly persona, he was known to have had a beautiful singing voice whilst also being a fine dancer, and also a womaniser. He would drink heavily and frequent the prostitutes and geisha of the Yoshiwara district. In 1861 Kunichika was married and is known to have had a daughter, Hana, though the marriage was not long lasting due to his questionable personal conduct. A contemporary commented on Kunichika as follows: "Print designing, theatre and drinking were his life and for him that was enough."
Due to poor health and heavy drinking, Kunichika died at his home on July 1, 1900 at the age of 65. The poem on his tombstone reads:
“Since I am tired of painting portraits of people of this world, I will paint portraits of the King of hell and the devils.”

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