Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Matsui Tamijiro fighting a giant snake, 1825. Oban.
Kuniyoshi was perhaps the greatest print artist of Japan during the entire of the nineteenth century. His fame and career were launched in 1827 with a series of warrior prints called the 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden (see an example of this series here). In the 108 Heroes Kuniyoshi revitalised the genre by picturing the individual heroes with an intense and powerful dynamism that seems to make them burst from the confines of the page. He further introduced mystical and supernatural feats for each of the warriors.
This print is quite spectacular... in the first place it dates from 1825, predating the Suikoden series and making it therefore a model for the great work that was to follow. In this print, not a part of a series, we see all of the signifiers of his later great work. Tamijiro is here wrestling and slaying a gigantic snake of supernatural proportion; he thrusts with his sword, the figure lying taut across the page, arm outstretched. The unusual and dynamic composition forms a powerful conflict of diagonals between Tamijiro (left to right) and the serpent (right to left). Kuniyoshi used this design almost exactly in the 1827 Suikoden series picturing Chusenko Teitokusen with the same snake.
As with the British Museum and Robinson copies of this print there is some trimming (in this case to the bottom edge); however the print remains in exceptionally fine condition. The colour is almost mint and the impression very good. Overall very fine, a rare and exceptional Kuniyoshi warrior print.
Signed Ichiyusai Kunishoshi ga, published by Tsutaya Kichizo with kiwame censor seal.
Robinson catalogue S1a.17.
A copy of this print is in the British Museum London Collection.