Utagawa Kunisada (1786 – January 12, 1865) (Japanese: ?? ??, also known as Utagawa Toyokuni III ?????? ) was the most popular, prolific and financially successful designer of ukiyo-e woodblock prints in 19th-century Japan. In his own time, his reputation far exceeded that of his contemporaries, Hokusai, Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi.
He was born in 1786 in Honjo, an eastern district of Edo. His given name was Sumida Shogoro IX (?????), and he was also called Sumida Shozo (????).
While growing up, he developed an early talent for painting and drawing. His early sketches at that time impressed Toyokuni, the great master of the Utagawa school and prominent designer of kabuki and actor-portrait prints. In the year 1800 or shortly thereafter Kunisada was accepted by Toyokuni I as an apprentice in his workshop. In keeping with a tradition of Japanese master-apprentice relations, he was then given the official artist name of "KUNI-sada", the first character of which was derived from the second part of the name "Toyo-KUNI".
Almost from the first day of his activity, and even at the time of his death in 1865, Kunisada was a trendsetter in the art of the Japanese woodblock print. Always at the vanguard of his time, and in tune with the tastes of the public, he continuously developed his style, which was sometimes radically changed, and did not adhere to stylistic constraints set by any of his contemporaries. His productivity was extraordinary. Approximately 14,500 individual designs have been catalogued (multi-ptych sets counted as a single design) corresponding to more than 22,500 individual sheets.
Following the traditional pattern of the Utagawa school, Kunisada's main occupation was kabuki and actor prints, and about 60% all of his designs fall in this category. However he was also highly active in the area of bijin prints (comprising about 15% of his complete works), and their total number was far higher than any other artist of his time. From 1820 to 1860 he likewise dominated the market for portraits of sumo wrestlers. For a long time (1835–1850) he had an almost complete monopoly on the genre of prints related to The Tale of Genji; it was only after 1850 that other artists began to produce similar designs.