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He was born on January 1, 1798, the son of a silk-dyer, Yanagiya Kichiyemon,[5] originally named Yoshisaburō. Apparently he assisted his father’s business as a pattern designer, and some have suggested that this experience influenced his rich use of color and textile patterns in prints. It is said that Kuniyoshi was impressed, at an early age of seven or eight, by ukiyo-e warrior prints, and by pictures of artisans and commoners (as depicted in craftsmen manuals), and it is possible these influenced his own later prints. Yoshisaburō proved his drawing talents at age 12, quickly attracting the attention of the famous ukiyo-e print master Utagawa Toyokuni. He was officially admitted to Toyokuni’s studio in 1811, and became one of his chief pupils. He remained an apprentice until 1814, at which time he was given the name “Kuniyoshi” and set out as an independent artist. During this year he produced his first published work, the illustrations for the kusazoshi gōkan Gobuji Chūshingura, a parody of the original Chūshingura story. Between 1815-1817 he created a number of book illustrations for yomihon, kokkeibon, gokan and hanashibon, and printed his stand-alone full color prints of “kabuki” actors and warriors.


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Birth name


New York Time Review 

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January 1, 1797

“The Earth Spider Conjures Up Demons at the Mansion of Minamoto no Raiko”  page 7


April 14, 1862 (age 65)




Painting and Ukiyo-e Woodblock Printing

Works Influenced by Influenced

Depictions of battles and samurai heroes Utagawa Toyokuni Toyohara Chikanobu



5 Konseimao hanzui beset by demons

The range of Kuniyoshi’s preferred subjects included many genres: landscapes, beautiful women, Kabuki actors, cats, and mythical animals. He is known for depictions of the battles of samurai and legendary heroes. His artwork was affected by Western influences in landscape painting and caricature.

Horse, Soga Goro on a rearing horse

Koga Saburo, suspendeding a basket, watching a dragon

Kajiwara Genda Kagesue for Umegae


7 As elegantly sumptuous as they are imaginatively extravagant, Kuniyoshi’s greatest prints represent turbulent, epic visions of human protagonists battling supernatural beings on three-page spreads two and a half feet across, a format he invented. He also made portraits of attractive women in fashionable clothes, kabuki actors, comical montages of anthropomorphized cats and octopuses and antic, pornographic cartoons. Along with Hokusai and Hiroshige, he worked in a style known as ukiyo-e, or pictures of the floating world of leisure and luxury, which a rising population of middle-class hedonists avidly consumed. For sheer visual pleasure, this is an eminently gratifying show. An 1843 triptych measuring more than 30 inches across and called “The Earth Spider Conjures Up Demons at the Mansion of Minamoto no Raiko” depicts a visionary battle between two hordes of ghostly, comically misshapen devils looming in the immediate background as the ailing warrior Raiko lies in his sick bed, and his four bodyguards lounge in sumptuous robes in the foreground. This strange and beautiful print became a cause célèbre, as many interpreted it as a satire on the puritanical reforms of the day. The demons were thought to represent various sorts of decadence that the rules sought to limit, and the sick warrior was identified with the shogun who was chiefly responsible for the laws. Whether that

was Kuniyoshi’s intended meaning there’s no telling, but when the print started to be acclaimed as a political critique, his frightened publisher withdrew it from circulation and planed down the blocks it was made from. The authorities evidently thought the image was a political critique; they jailed and fined an artist and a publisher who issued their own pirated version of Kuniyoshi’s print. The puritanical laws didn’t stop Kuniyoshi from producing some 10,000 prints by the time he died in his mid-60s in 1861, many of them technically virtuosic and flat-out gorgeous. The 1837 image of a naked, red-skinned boy wrestling a carp bigger than himself under a waterfall with a seemingly translucent curtain of liquid falling over the big fish, and a blizzard of little white bubbles dotting the whole is as exciting for its technical merit as for its mythic vision. A triptych from 1845-46, in which a giant, spectral skeleton conjured by an evil princess looms over a pair of battling, resplendently dressed warriors, and another from the same year showing the muscular hero Benkei dragging a giant bell up the slopes of Mount Hiei, are marvels of draftsmanship and fantastic visual storytelling. Ken Johnson, New York Times

The Earth Spider Conjures Up Demons at the Mansion of Minamoto no Raiko

Kaitlyn Coyle

Kaitlyn Coyle Final  

Utagawa Kuniyoshi

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