Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden #39: Kaosho Rochishin, 1830. Oban.
This extraordinary print comes from Kuniyoshi’s series 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden. The success of this series helped establish musha-e as a major genre of ukiyo-e. The Edo public became fascinated by the exploits of a group of legendary Robin Hood type bandits from the 14th century, popularised in a new adaptation and illustrated by Katsushika Hokusai between 1805 and 1838. Capitalising on its success, Kuniyoshi published this revolutionary series of prints in 1827. It is conventional to ascribe some debt from Kuniyoshi to his older colleague; however, as Hokusai's series was published in 1829, two years later, it is difficult to understand how that could be the case.
Possibly Kuniyoshi’s finest and most important series, these prints burst onto the woodblock scene with their bold colours, exotic settings and richly decorated surfaces. He pictures the heroes as having superhuman strength, richly tattooed and engaging with supernatural creatures. In this print, we see Kaosho Rochisin, a former military captain turned monk, tattooed and with buddhist rosary and bulging muscles, splitting a pine tree in two with an iron bar. The pictures bristles with energy, the design is bold and typical of Kuniyoshi’s approach to the series.
This piece is in fine condition; strong colours and fine impression with only slight trimming, typical of the surviving prints from the series. Other copies of the print are in the collection of the British Museum London, The National Museum of Japanese History, The Museum of Fine Arts Brooklyn and this print was further illustrated in the New York Times article on that museum’s exhibition, Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print.
Signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga; published by Kagaya Kichiemon and Kiwame censor seal.