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Biography: Kyôgadô ASHIKUNI (狂画堂芦國)

Ashikuni 1801 Jutaro as Danshichi
Ashikuni print from 6/1801
Bandô Jûtarô I as Danshichi Mohei
in Yadonashi Danshichi shigure no karakasa




Ashikuni signatureKyôgadô Ashikuni (狂画堂芦國 act. c. 1801–20), born in Osaka, was a pupil of the painter Suga Ranrisai. He might have been a bookseller — a person named Kyôgadô Shôhikaku was identified as such on the title page of Saten suminoe zôshi, a nine-volume woodblock-printed book that he and other artists illustrated in 1810. As Kyôgadô was also Ashikuni's pseudonym, the same names might be more than mere coincidence. Moreover, in 1810 he was involved as a "bookseller" for an ehon (picture book: 絵本) with illustrations by the Edo artists Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎 1760-1849) and Utagawa Toyokuni I (歌川豊國 1769-1825) as well as by some Osaka artists.

Ashikuni's paintings of the superstar actor Nakamura Utaemon (中村歌右衛門 1778–1838) were said to have adorned the sliding doors of shops run by members of one of Utaemon's fan clubs called the Shikan-kô (Shikan 芝翫 was one of the actor's poetry names). Ashikuni strongly favored Utaemon in his print and book designs, it would seem, for his entire career.

Overall, Ashikuni work primarily as an illustrator for woodblock-printed books, producing 40 or more "picture books" (ehon), sometimes signing as Asayama Ashikuni, 浅山芦國). He designed only a handful of single-sheet prints, nearly all later in his career, or so it seems based on the few surviving prints with his signature. These works were in hosoban (細判 approx. 330 x 150 mm), including at least one stencil print (kappazuri-e: 合羽摺絵) and ôban (大判 approx. 370 x 280 mm) formats. In addition, 34 drawings in colors on silk by Ashikuni are now held in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Some surimono (privately published and distributed prints: 摺物) by Ashikuni are also known. Again, Utaemon III appears as a favorite subject in certain of these works. These private productions signal Ashikuni's involvement with a wide circle of amateur artists, poets, and theater elite who appreciated and sought after these sophisticated print designs.

Ashikuni was an important teacher of actor-print design during the first two decades of the nineteenth century, with at least 17 known pupils. The most prominent (and prolific) among them was Gigadô Ashiyuki (戯画堂芦幸). See the list of pupils given below.

Ashikuni's names/signatures/seals

Asayama (淺山)

Art name (geimei):
Ashikuni (芦國 also used あし國)

Art pseudonyms ():
Kyôgadô [also read as Gôgadô]: 狂画堂
Seiyôsai (青陽斎)
Ransai (蘭斎)
Ran'eisai (蘭英斎)
Rôshû (蘆州)
Rôshûsai (蘆州斎)

Pupils of Ashikuni (listed alphabetically)

Ashifune (芦舟 act. c. 1812–16)
Ashiharu (芦陽 act. c. 1824)
Ashihide (芦秀 act. c. 1816)
Ashihiro (芦廣 act. c. 1816–24)
Ashikiyo (芦清 act. c. 1814–17)
Okajôdô Ashimaro (岡丈堂芦麿 act. c. 1813–14)
Ashimaru (芦丸 used c. 1824)
Ashimaru (芦丸 early name until 3/1816 for Jukôdô Yoshikuni 壽好堂芳國 act. c. 1813–32)
Ashinuki (芦貫 act. c. 1816–18)
Ashisato (芦郷 act. c. 1813–16)
Ashitaka (芦尚 act. c. 1817); also possibly read as Ashihisa or Ashinao
Ashitomi (芦富 act. c. 1812–17)
Ashitomo (芦友 act. c. 1814–16)
Gigadô Ashiyuki (戯画堂芦幸 act. c. 1813-33)
Hammamatsu Utakuni (濱松歌國 1777–1827, act. c. 1814–16)
Hashikuni (橋國 act. c. 1822–25 ?)
Jukô (壽公 and 壽好 alternate name for Jukôdô Yoshikuni (壽好堂芳國 act. c. 1813–32)
Toshikuni (歳國 later Hokugan 北鴈 act. c. 1816–30s)

For more information about Ashikuni, see John Fiorillo's web page: