Utagawa Kunisada (jap. 歌 川 国 貞?, Also known as Utagawa Toyokuni III (jap. 三代 歌 川 豊 国)) is the largest Japanese artist and master of color graphics (xylography) of the Edo period.
Details about the life of Utagawa Kunisad are few. He was born in Honjo, an eastern suburb of Edo, and originally bore the name of Sumida Shögoro (Jap. 角 田 庄 五 朗 Sumida Sho: Goro :?), as well as Sumida Shojo (Jap. 角 田 庄 蔵 Sumida Sho: Zo :?). He died there after almost 80 years. His father passed away when the boy was not even one year old. The family lived on the income from the ferry belonging to it. The talent for drawing manifested itself in the future artist early. His drawings were liked by Utagawa Toyokuni, the head of the school Utagawa (English), at that time a well-known artist depicting portraits of the actors of the Kabuki Theater, and in 1800 he took the young man as an apprentice. From his teacher, Sumida Sjogoro, he received the name KUNISAD, the first character of which was taken from the name Toyokuni.
The first known impression of Kunisad’s work dates back to 1807, but the following are dated back to 1809–10. Since 1808, he has been working as an illustrator of books, and the popularity of Kunisad drawings is growing every year. In 1809, he was already called the “star” of the Utagawa school, and in 1810-11 he was rated as equal in skill to his teacher Toyokuni. In 1808 or 1809, his first series of portraits of theater actors appeared; at the same time, a series of views of the city of Edo and Bizating. In 1813, he was officially recognized as the second most important master of the Ukiyo-e style (after his teacher Toyokuni).
Since 1810, Kunisad has used the pseudonym Gogotei, which is found until 1842 in all his engravings on the subject of Kabuki, and since 1825 also the pseudonym Kotero for all his other works. In 1844 Kunisada accepts the name of his teacher, and signs some works as Toyokuni III.
Utagawa Kunisada is one of the top three great Ukiyo-e masters who graduated from Utagawa’s school, along with Utagawa Hiroshige and Utagawa Kuniyoshi, far exceeding the last two, both in terms of popularity and sales.