About the artist:
Toyohara Kunichika (Japanese: 豊原 国周; 30 June 1835 – 1 July 1900) was a Japanese woodblock print artist. Talented as a child, at about thirteen he became a student of Tokyo's then-leading print maker, Utagawa Kunisada. His deep appreciation and knowledge of kabuki drama led to his production primarily of ukiyo-e actor-prints, which are woodblock prints of kabuki actors and scenes from popular plays of the time. An alcoholic and womanizer, Kunichika also portrayed women deemed beautiful (bijinga), contemporary social life, and a few landscapes and historical scenes. He worked successfully in the Edo period, and carried those traditions into the Meiji period. To his contemporaries and now to some modern art historians, this has been seen as a significant achievement during a transitional period of great social and political change in Japan's history. he artist who became known as Toyohara Kunichika was born Ōshima Yasohachi on June 30, 1835, in the Kyōbashi district, a merchant and artisan area of Edo (present-day Tokyo). His father, Ōshima Kyujū, was the proprietor of a sentō (public bathhouse), the Ōshūya. An indifferent family man, and poor businessman, he lost the bathhouse sometime in Yasohachi's childhood. The boy's mother, Arakawa Oyae, was the daughter of a teahouse proprietor. At that time, commoners of a certain social standing could ask permission to alter the family name (myōji gomen). To distance themselves from the father's failure, the family took the mother's surname, and the boy became Arakawa Yasohachi. Little is known about his childhood except that, as a youth, Yasohachi earned a reputation as a prankster and drew complaints from his neighbors, and that at nine he was involved in a fight at the Sanno Festival in Asakusa . At age ten he was apprenticed to a thread and yarn store. However, because he preferred painting and sketching to learning the dry goods trade, at eleven he moved to a shop near his father's bathhouse. There he helped in the design of Japanese lampshades called andon, consisting of a wooden frame with a paper cover. When he was twelve, his older brother, Chōkichi, opened a raised picture shop, and Yasohachi drew illustrations for him. It is believed that around age twelve Yasohachi began to study with Toyohara (Ichiōsai) Chikanobu (not to be confused with Kunichika’s student Toyohara Chikanobu). At the same time he designed actor portraits for battledores sold by a shop called Meirindo. His teacher gave him the name "Kazunobu". It may have been on the recommendation of Chikanobu that the boy was accepted the following year as an apprentice in the studio of Utagawa Kunisada, the leading and most prolific print maker of the mid-19th century. By 1854 the young artist had made his first confirmed signed print and had taken the name "Kunichika", a composite of the names of this two teachers, Kunisada and Chikanobu. His early work was derivative of the Utagawa style and some of his prints were outright copies (an accepted practice of the time). While working in Kunisada's studio Kunichika was assigned a commission to make a print illustrating a bird's-eye view of Tenjinbashi Avenue following the terrible earthquake of 1855 that destroyed most of the city. This assignment suggests that he was considered one of Kunisada's better students. The "prankster" artist got into trouble in 1862 when, in response to a commission for a print illustrating a fight at a theater, he made a "parody print" (mitate-e) which angered the students who had been involved in the fracas. They ransacked Kunichika's house and tried to enter Kunisada's studio by force. His mentor revoked Kunichika's right to use the name he had been given but relented later that year. Decades afterwards Kunichika described himself as greatly "humbled" by the experience. Kunichika's status continued to rise and he was commissioned to create several portraits of his teacher. When Kunisada died in 1865, his student was commissioned to design two memorial portraits. The right panel of the portrait contains an obituary written by the writer, Kanagaki Robun, while the left contains memorial poems written by the three top students, including Kunichika.
Toyohara Kunichika (Japanese: 豊原 国周; 30 June 1835 – 1 July 1900) was a Japanese woodblock print artist. Talented as a child, at about thirteen he became a student of Tokyo's then-leading print maker, Utagawa Kunisada. His deep