Kunichika, Toyohara (Japanese, 1835-1900)
Born in 1835, Toyohara Kunichika (born Oshima Yasohachi) grew up in the Kyobashi district of Edo amidst merchants and artisans, observing the area's cultural character. In 1848, at age 13, he was accepted as an apprentice into the studio of Kunisada (Toyokuni III, 1786-1865). During his years there, Kunichika's status grew and by the time of Kunisada's death, he was commissioned to produce several portraits of his late master. Kunichika's work stands in contrast to that of many of his contemporaries as he persistently held onto the traditional style and subject matter of the classic Japanese woodcut, unaffected by new Western forms of art. His enjoyment of kabuki theatre inspired him to depict actors in their various roles and highlight their striking facial expressions. He successfully integrated the use of modern aniline dyes imported from the West into his prints. This skillful use of colour and ability to translate the actor’s depth of emotion make his prints some of the most dramatic to ever be produced in Japan. Later on in his career, Kunichika turned primarily to the triptych format as the increased size gave him the space to fully portray the drama and action of the characters represented.