Kunisada (1786-1865) was the most prolific and commercially-successful of all woodblock print designers. Although he designed many prints of beauties, Kabuki actors were his main speciality and formed about 70% of his output.
Part 1 of this exhibition features commercially-published actor prints from the 1820s and 30s, when Kunisada established a style distinct from that of his teacher Utagawa Toyokuni.
Part 2 comprises prints from the period after 1844 when he adopted his master’s name and signed himself ‘Toyokuni’. These later prints are more complex in design, and are shown here in ‘luxury’ impressions on thick paper with special printing effects: the reflective gleam of metallic pigments and mica; three-dimensional patterns embossed without using ink (karazuri); and shining patterns produced by burnishing the printed surface with a piece of ivory or tooth (tsuyazuri). Such costly effects were also used in the privately-issued prints known as surimono (literally ‘printed matter’), which form Part 3 of this exhibition.
Surimono combine images and poems and were often commissioned by poetry clubs associated with actors and artists, and sometimes by the actors themselves. Kunisada’s surimono were mainly produced in the 1820s and 30s and were almost entirely devoted to Kabuki subjects; several document his intimacy with leading actors such as Danjuro VII (1791-1859) and Onoe Kikugoro III (1784-1849)