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The artist who was to be known to history as Utagawa Kuniyoshi was born in
Edo (present-day ) in 1797. He was the son of a silk dyer named Yanagiya Kichiemon and was given the name Yoshisaburô at birth. At the age of 14, Yoshisaburô joined the Tokyo of ukiyo-eartists, then headed by Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769 - 1825). Toyokuni I gave Yoshisaburô the name Utagawa Kuniyoshi; “Kuniyoshi” being a combination of the names “Toyokuni” and “Yoshisaburô”. Utagawa School
- In 1814, Kuniyoshi ended his apprenticeship and set out as an independent artist. He initially produced actor prints in the style of his teacher, which gained him little recognition. Kuniyoshi achieved a commercial and artistic breakthrough in 1827 with the first six designs of the series, The 108 Heroes of the Suikoden. The series was bases upon a 14th century Chinese novel about the adventures of a band of 108 honorable bandits and rebels.
- Like his teacher, Kuniyoshi had many students including Yoshitoshi, Yoshi’iku, Yoshikazu, Yoshitsuya, Yoshiyuki, Yoshifuji, Yoshifusa, Yoshiharu, Yoshikage, Yoshikata, Yoshikatsu, Yoshimori, Yoshimune, Yoshinao*, Yoshinobu*, Yoshitoyo*, Yoshitsuna, Kyôsai (briefly) and his own daughters, Yoshitora and Yoshitori. Kuniyoshi had a special fondness for cats, which overran his studio and are portrayed in many of his prints.
Although Kuniyoshi is now universally known as Utagawa Kuniyoshi, he also used the names Ichiyûsai Kuniyoshi, Chô-ô-rô Kuniyoshi, Igusa Kuniyoshi, Ichi Kuniyoshi and Saihôsa Kuniyoshi. He died from complications of a stroke on April 14, 1861.