Utagawa Kunisada (1786 ~ 1865)

Kunisada was born in the Honjo district of Edo (modern Tokyo, 東京) as Kunisada Tsunoda, into a family that owned a hereditary ferry service. He showed significant promise in painting and drawing from a young age, thanks in part to his family's connections with literary and theatrical circles. At the age of 15, he became a pupil of Toyokuni I (豊国) of the Utagawa school, later adopting his master's name in 1844 to become Toyokuni III.
Throughout his career, Kunisada specialized in ukiyo-e prints, focusing on traditional subjects such as kabuki, bijin (美人, beautiful women), shunga (春画, erotic prints), and historical scenes. His works reflect the culture of Japan in the years leading up to the country's opening to the West.
He was incredibly prolific, with his output including nearly 20,000 prints, illustrated books, and other privately commissioned works, earning him a reputation that surpassed contemporaries like Hokusai (北斎) and Hiroshige (広重).
Kunisada was particularly renowned for his portraits of kabuki actors (yakusha-e, 役者絵) and depictions of beautiful women, often courtesans from the Yoshiwara district. He collaborated with the author Ryūtei Tanehiko (柳亭種彦) to illustrate a series of books based on the classic novel "The Tale of Genji," moving the setting from the old capital of Kyoto to Edo. This project started the new ukiyo-e genre of genji-e (源氏絵) and became a phenomenal success, being the first Japanese publication to sell over 10,000 copies.
Despite his fame in 19th century Japan, Kunisada's reputation among Western collectors remained low until the 1990s, when his work was reevaluated through intensive studies.
Kunisada died in 1864 in the neighborhood where he was born, at the age of 70, leaving a lasting legacy as one of the most active and popular ukiyo-e masters. Notable students of Kunisada included Kunichika Toyohara (豊原国周), Sadahide Utagawa (歌川貞秀), and Kunisada II Utagawa (二代目国貞).