Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden (Tsutsoku Suikoden goketsuhyaku-hachi-nin no hitori): Kinhyoshi Yorin after the battle of Kotodhu on a windy day, 1827. Oban.
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Kuniyoshi’s finest series, The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden, was also his most important, establishing him as the leading ukiyo-e artist of the day and reviving the public interest in heroes and warriors. They are the first single sheet colour prints on the Suikoden and the first large series of warrior prints produced by any ukiyo-e artist. These terrific prints which burst with energy, invention and extraordinary design intelligence reveal the enthusiasm and hunger of a young artist keen to break away from the constraints of his old studio. The prints have precedents: there are two musha-e in this show by his teacher Toyokuni which pre-date this series by nearly twenty years. Hokusai had also recently illustrated various novels with wrestling outlaws and lawless samurai. It was Kuniyoshi though who categorised the style, enhanced it with a powerful and original luminosity and invented new forms for the traditional outlaw heroes of the water margin.
The Chinese name of the hero Kinhyoshi Yorin is Yang Lin, nicknamed the Multi-Coloured Leopard. The 108 Heroes were Chinese bandits akin to Robin Hood who eventually save the country and are rewarded by the Emperor. Kinhyoshi was employed as a spy as well as a warrior and is known to have carried an iron tipped spear. Kuniyoshi draws him after the battle of Kotodhu carrying a ferocious iron spear, hooked on the end and barbed at the stave. He struggles against the wind, hat in hand, the leaves swirling around him. Kuniyoshi pictures the wind as a kind of coloured vortex that sweeps across the upper half of the page.
This is an outstanding print, trimmed to the image but unusually large. The colour and impression are very fine and the condition is superb for this series, which are so often badly worn and soiled.
Signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi. Published by Kagaya Kichiemon.
25cm x 37cm.