Yoshitoshi, Ushiwaka Maru (Yoshitsune) learns Martial Arts From Sojobo, King of the Tengu

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Ushiwaka Maru (Yoshitsune) learns Martial Arts From Sojobo, King of the Tengu, 1880. Oban triptych.

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In August 2013 we looked at the influence of Kuniyoshi on his pupil, the great genius of the late nineteenth century, Yoshitoshi. The show included this intriguing triptych that seems to be a compendium of other artist’s treatment of the same subject. A masterpiece of Japanese art and a triumph of technical woodblock printing, the print features in the collections of every major art museum across the world.

This magnificent triptych depicts the mysterious King of the Tengu, Sojobo (literally, High Priest), teaching the legendary Japanese warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune the art of fighting. The Kuniyoshi oban of the same subject acts as a model for the figure of Yoshitsune and the pine forest setting.  Yoshitsune, who was known as Ushiwaka-Maru as a boy, was the youngest son of Minamoto Yoshitomo, killed by order of the leader of the Taira-clan. Ushiwaka was arrested together with his mother and two brothers, and given over to a monastery. When he became aware of his family history he vowed revenge on the Taira. During his outings in the forest, he met with an old man, red faced and with an unusually long nose. This was the powerful Sojobo, King of the Tengu. Tengu are legendary demons of the forest, skilled at fighting and with long bird like faces. Sojobu, recognising the skill of the boy, taught him how to fight like a Tengu. Yoshitsune is often pictured as a young man fighting the monk Benkei on Gojo Bridge - flying through the air in the manner of a Tengu.

The subject had been tackled before by Kunisada in a print that bears many similarities in overall design and composition. Yoshitoshi attempted an almost identical composition in the 1860’s but this enigmatic print is by far the most successful of the subject and the most original. It is a fine piece, in the mature style that Yoshitoshi came to adopt in the 1880’s. Sojobo sits in the right hand panel observing Yoshitsune fighting off several flying tengu whilst others watch from behind the trees in the centre panel. One of Yoshitoshi’s best triptychs, the image is very famous although actual copies are hard to come by.

Three separate sheets, colour, condition and impression are all very fine.

70cm x 35cm.

 

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