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Biography: Utagawa TOYOKUNI II (歌川豊國 [二代] )

Utagawa Toyokuni II beauty gathering flowering cherry blossoms
Toyokuni II print from c. early 1830s
Tôsei bijin hana awase (當世美人花合)
(Comparison of modern beauties with flowers)
(ôban aizuri-e)




Toyokuni II signatureUtagawa Toyokun II (二代 歌川豊國 1777–1835), also known as Toyoshige (豊重), was a pupil and adopted son of Toyokuni I (1769-1825). He used the name Toyoshige until 3/1825, when either the family gave him the right to use his deceased teacher's name, or he simply took it for himself. Thereafter, he began signing his work Toyokuni (豊國). However, nearly a decade after Toyokuni II's own death, Utagawa Kunisada I began using the Toyokuni art name (geimei: 芸名) in 1844. Complicating matters further, he did not accept Toyoshige's right to the second-generation geimei and so when he indicated his name change on some print designs, he referred to himself as "Toyokuni II" (Kunisada aratame nidai Toyokuni: Kunisada changing to Toyokuni II, 國貞改二代豊國). However, today, Kunisada is referred to as Utagawa Toyokuni III (三代 歌川豊國).

Toyokuni II appears to have entered the studio of Utagawa Toyokuni I in 1818 at the rather advanced age of 41. The reason for this late beginning is unknown, and his life before he joined the Toyokuni studio remains obscure. His earliest known work is a fan print (uchiwa-e: 團扇) from 1823, thus about five years into his apprenticeship. Actor prints (yakusha-e: 役者絵) followed in 1824. During this early period while signing as "Toyoshige," he produced slightly more than 30 known print designs.

Toyoshige was adopted by Toyokuni I just before or at the New Year of 1825 (the master died on 1/7/1825), whereupon Toyoshige signed a few actor prints in the first and third months of that same year as "Toyokuni sui Toyoshige ga" (Drawn by Toyoshige, son of Toyokuni: 豊國倅豊重画). Around 1828 he lived in Hongô Haruki-chô, Edo, from which he came to be known colloquially as "Hongô Toyokuni" (本郷豊國). No works are known by him after 1835, so it is assumed he died or retired from printmaking by that time.

During his career Toyokuni II concentrated mainly on yakusha-e and a few series of bijinga (prints of beautiful women: 美人画). A notable example of the latter is his "Comparison of modern beauties with flowers" (Tôsei bijin hana awase: 當世美人花合), done as aizuri-e (blue prints: 藍摺絵) when the craze for designs printed entirely in blue pigments was at its height, incorporating the imported synthetic pigment called "Berlin Blue” (bero-ai: ベロリン藍 or ベロ藍) or "Prussian Blue" (see the image on the left).

Of particular distinction, and most unusual for him, is Toyokuni II's "Eight views of scenic places" (Meishô no hakkei: 名勝八景) circa 1830. He also designed a small number of surimono (privately issued and distributed high-quality specialty prints: 摺物), some paintings, and around 20 illustrated books (ehon: 絵本). All told, about 200 single-sheet print compositions are known by him, a relatively small number for a skilled graduate of the Toyokuni I studio, and despite his working with more than 20 publishers.

Toyokuni II signatures can be distinguished from those of his teacher by the decidedly different style of writing the first character, Toyo (豊). Sometimes described as the "zig-zag" signature in a few English-language publications, the stem of the "Toyo" kanji does indeed appear to be rendered in a zig-zag manner. In the examples shown at the lower right, we can compare the written (brushed) "Toyo" for (left-to right): Toyokuni I, II, and III (Kunisada I).

Toyokuni II's names

Utagawa (歌川)

Toyokuni II signatureArt names (geimei):
Toyoshige (豊重) 1823 until 3/1825
Toyokuni (豊國) from 4/1825

Pseudonyms ():
Ichiesai (一瑛齋)
Ichiryôsai (一陽齋): 1824
Ichiryûsai (一龍齋)
Gosotei (後素亭) from 1829
Mansuian (満穂庵)
Genzô (源蔵)

Hongô Toyokuni (本郷豊國) late 1820s?

Pupils of Toyokuni II

Toyokuni II had a number of students, all minor artists, including:

Kuniharu (國春 Sanpûtei 山風亭) 1803-1839
Kunihiro (國弘) act. c. 1820s-1830s
Kunimori I (國盛 Kochôen 胡蝶園) act. c. 1820-1840
Kunitomi I (國富 Kasentei 花川亭; geimei: Tominobu 富信) act. c. 1820-1844
Kunitsuru I (國靏 Ichiyû 一雄) 1807-1878
Kunishige II (國重) act. c. 1818-1844(?)