Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861), A cat dressed as a woman tapping the head of an octopus.
Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825), The Actors Ichikawa Danzo IV and Iwai Kumesaburo I as
Kawagoe no Taro Shigeyori and Kyo no Kimi, 1800, Color Woodcut, 389 x 255 mm, Bequest of John H. Van Vleck, The Chazen Museum of Art.
200 Eastern Parkway
Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print, 1770-1900
March 21-June 15, 2008
Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print, 1770-1900 presents 95 Japanese woodblock prints by more than 15 artists, among them Utagawa Hiroshige, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.
The Utagawa School, founded by Utagawa Toyoharu, dominated the Japanese print market in the 19th century. Colorful, technically innovative, and sometimes defiant of government regulations, these prints were created for a popular audience and documented the pleasures of urban life and leisure. The exhibition is drawn from the holdings of the Chazen Museum of Art's renowned Van Vleck collection and is augmented by 22 woodblock prints from the Brooklyn Museum's Asian art collection.
The Utagawa school was a group of Japanese woodblock print artists, founded by Toyoharu. His pupil, Toyokuni I, took over after Toyoharu's death and raised the group to become the most famous and powerful woodblock print school for the remainder of the 19th century.
Hiroshige, Kunisada, Kuniyoshi and Yoshitoshi were Utagawa students.
The school became so successful and well-known that today more than half of all surviving ukiyo-e prints are from it.
Founder Toyoharu adopted Western-style deep perspective, an innovation in Japanese art. His immediate followers, Utagawa Toyohiro and Utagawa Toyokuni adopted bolder, more sensuous styles than Toyoharu and specialized in different genres — Toyohiro in landscapes and Toyokuni in kabuki actor prints. Later artists in the school specialized in other genres, such as warrior prints and mythic parodies.
It was Japanese custom for successful apprentices to take the names of masters. In the main Utagawa school, there was a hierarchy of g? (art-names), from senior to junior. As each senior person died, the others would move up a step.
The head of the school used the g? (and signed his prints) as Toyokuni. When Kunisada I named himself school head (c. 1842), he started signing as Toyokuni. The next most senior member, Kochoro (a name also previously used by Kunisada I, but not as his chief g?), started signing as Kunisada (Kunisada II, in this case).
The next most senior member after him, in turn, began signing as Kunimasa (Kunimasa IV, in this case), which had been Kochoro's g? before he became Kunisada II. (The original Kunimasa I had been a student of Toyokuni I.)
An additional complexity is the fact that there are two different artists who are sometimes referred to as Toyokuni II.
The first Toyokuni II was Toyoshige, a mediocre pupil and son-in-law of Toyokuni I who became head of the Utagawa school after Toyokuni I died.
Kunisada I (Toyokuni III) despised Toyoshige, and refused to acknowledge him as head of the Utagawa school. Apparently, this was because he felt that as the best pupil, he should have been named head after the old master died, and was upset with Toyoshige, who apparently got the position because of his family connection.
When Kunisada I took over the art-name Toyokuni (c. 1842), he removed Toyokuni II from house history and for a period actually signed as Toyokuni II. However, he is now numbered, Toyokuni III. There are prints which signed Toyokuni II which are by the artist now known as Toyokuni III.
This numbering persisted, so when Kochoro became head of the Utagawa school, he signed as Toyokuni III, although by he would be the fourth Toyokuni. Likewise Kochoro II eventually signed as Toyokuni IV, and is now numbered Toyokuni V.
The exhibition was organized by Laura Mueller, Van Vleck Curatorial Intern, Chazen Museum of Art, and Doctoral Candidate, Japanese Art History, University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Brooklyn Museum's presentation has been coordinated and enhanced with the addition of works from Brooklyn's collection by Joan Cummins, Lisa and Bernard Selz Curator of Asian Art, Brooklyn Museum.