Gallery is open Fridays 10 - 5, Saturdays 10 - 3, also by chance or by appointment ( Site updated 8.6.2022.

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III): Chushingura prints


Prints of Utagawa Kunisada are the exception to the MBFA gallery residency rule. Utagawa Kunisada (1789 - 1865) never lived in Lyme or Thetford, indeed he never left Japan. Japan was a closed society until 1853 (foreigners were excluded and no Japanese were allowed to leave Japan). The year Admiral Perry forced open the country to visitors and trade (1853) Kunisada was 64 and at the peak of his artistic production. Friend to many popular actors of the time, he had been for decades the most successful artist in Edo, intensely immersed in the complex culture of theater and art production of that city (one of the largest cities of the world).

Kunisada lived in Edo towards the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, a 200-year period of military dictatorship ending in 1868. Largely overlooked by art history until recently, Kunisada was exceptionally prolific (the MFA in Boston owns over 10,000 prints designed by Kunisada). Kunisada had the most students, produced and sold the most prints, and enjoyed the most prestige.

Gifted a Kunisada print in 1995, my interest in Kunisada was piqued in 2013 by Prof Allen Hockley of Dartmouth College. Prof. Hockley, while describing the scale of the _ukiyo-e_ print art industry, described “no one knows how big this industry making these woodblock prints was, and actually Matt, the guy who made by far the largest number of prints was Kunisada”. Fascination grew while visiting the Boston MFA’s first exhibit of Kunisada’s art, “Showdown: Kunisada vs. Kuniyoshi” in the fall of 2017, curated by Sarah Thompson. Later finding these wonderfully crafted and designed prints available and affordable, I began purchasing prints from dealers and through online auctions with a notion of getting to know Kunisada better. A maker of color woodblock prints myself using the same Japanese _hanga_ method, I see this pursuit as a way to deepen my appreciation of what is possible with the _hanga_ printmaking process. I think of Kunisada as “my teacher”.

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