Toyohara Kunichika (1835 ~ 1900)

Toyohara Kunichika (豊原国周), born Yasohachi Oshima in 1835, was one of the last great masters of ukiyo-e and one of the most important woodblock print artists of the Meiji period (1868-1912). He began his artistic journey studying with the ukiyo-e artist Chikanobu Ichiosai Toyohara (豊原周信), from whom he inherited the artistic name Toyohara. At the age of thirteen, he moved to study in Tōkyō under the guidance of Utagawa Kunisada, although he never used the Utagawa name despite working in the style of the Utagawa school.
Kunichika is remembered for bringing ukiyo-e into a new era of color printmaking, specializing in dramatic actor portraits (yakusha-e, 役者絵) and using vivid colors such as intense reds and dark purples, which were made from aniline dyes imported from Germany during the Meiji period. These bold colors set him apart, as most artists of the time used softer hues.
A passionate fan of kabuki theater, Kunichika spent much time backstage, sketching actors and socializing with theatrical figures, an experience that enriched his designs with a unique intimacy and emotional depth. Although he also produced bijin-ga (美人画, pictures of beautiful women), historical prints, and journalistic illustrations, his main passion remained the kabuki theater, from which he drew inspiration for expansive triptychs and okubi-e (large head portraits) rich in emotion.