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Biography: Jukôdô YOSHIKUNI (壽好堂芳國)

Yoshikuni 182
Yoshikuni print from 1825
Nakamura Utaemon III as Tamamo no Mae
in Yosete aratama kokonobake




Yoshikuni signatureJukôdô Yoshikuni (壽好堂芳國 act. c. 1813-32), a pupil of Kyôgadô Ashikuni (狂画堂芦國), was an important artist of the 1810s-20s in Osaka. As with various other literati of the period, Yoshikuni was active in various other arts, including poetry and, of course, printmaking. He was also a highly skilled puppet-theater-style chanter (Bunraku-tayû: 文楽太夫).

Many print artists composed verses as contributors to poetry anthologies or poems on prints, either individually or as members of poetry clubs (renchû: 連中). However, Yoshikuni was among the more accomplished poets, heading the Jukôdô-sha circle of print and haikai (俳諧) poetry aficionados and contributing poems to surimono (privately issued and distributed prints: 摺物).

Yoshikuni designed many prints portraying not only star actors from the main theaters but also lesser-known performers from the middle theaters. Unusual for a leading artist, Yoshikuni produced portraits of Nakamura Tsurusuke I (中村鶴助 the future Utaemon IV 四世 中村歌右衛門) early in his kabuki career and years before it became clear the actor would succeed the great Nakamura Utaemon III. Yoshikuni also engaged in a wide range of collaborations (gassaku: 合作) with other artists, including AshikuniAshiyuki, Hikokuni, Kunihiro, Shibakuni, and Tamikuni.

Although he was a fairly prolific artist for a ukiyo-e designer in Kamigata, there are, so far, no known illustrated books (ehon: 絵本) or paintings by Yoshikuni. This is rather surprising for a leading artist of the period, although perhaps one day an example of an ehon or painting will surface.

Yoshikuni often featured the superstar Nakamura Utaemon III (三世 中村歌右衛門). In the early portraits of Utaemon, Yoshikuni tended to render the facial likeness (nigao: 似顔) in a manner derived from Utagawa school of actor portraits in Edo, although there is some softening of the nose and chin, and less extreme bulging of the eyes. Beginning in the 1820s, the nigao shifted, inconsistently at first, toward the softer manner favored in Kamigata (上方: Osaka-Kyoto region).

Yoshikuni's names/signatures/seals

Takagi or Takaki (高城)
Kô (高)
Toyokawa (豊川); Jukô (壽公 and 壽好) see "Toyokawa Yoshikuni" signature at top right with "Yoshi" seal (芳)

Art names (geimei):
Ashimaru (芦丸) earlier geimei until 3/1816
Yoshikuni (芳國); also used よし國 (see second part of signature above right)

Art pseudonyms ():
Jukôdô (壽好堂)
Kôjôdô (岡丈堂)

Pupils of Yoshikuni (listed alphabetically)

Chikakuni (千歌國 and 千哥國) act. c. 1821-23
Hidekuni (英國) act. c. 1827
Kiyokuni (清國) act. c. 1827
Jukôdô Masakuni (壽鶴堂升國) act. c. 1823
Toshikuni (年國 and 歳國) also as とし國 same artist as Hokugan 北鴈 act. c. 1816 to mid 1830s(?)
Umekuni (梅國) also as Mumekuni (む免國) act. c. 1816–26
Yoshiyuki (芳幸) also as よし幸 act. c. 1822

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