Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden: Boyasha Sonjiro Subduing an Enemy, 1827-1830. Oban.
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A very different type of hero from the sober ronin of the Chushingura. This print and two others that follow are from the defining series of prints made by the young Kuniyoshi at the start of his career. Launched in 1827, this great series established Kuniyoshi as the foremost artist of his generation. It was the first major series of full colour, single sheet warrior prints, Kuniyoshi nevertheless had precedents in similar experiments by Kunisada, Toyokuni I and Shuntei. Kuniyoshi found his audience though and his future success was assured.
The stories of the Heroes of the Water Margin (Suikoden) were originally medieval Chinese folk tales, exported to Japan and rewritten for the Edo audience. They tell a fantastical tale of outlaw bandits with supernatural strength who are eventually cajoled into defending the Chinese Empire and as a result, pardoned by the Emperor. Kuniyoshi’s series is certainly his finest and most innovative work. The prints sparkle and crackle with invention and energy. In this wonderful, expansive and exotic print, Kuniyoshi pictures the heroine, Boyasha Sonjiro wrestling an enemy to the ground and subduing his horse before binding him with rope. Such is the dynamism and energy of the print that the second character is barely visible amidst the piles of snow, clashing patterns and chunks of armour. The face of Boyasha is the the calm centre of the piece - all around her everything is chaos. Translated as "The Good Wife of the Sun", her original incarnation is as Sun Erniang. She ran a tavern with her husband where she drugged and robbed passing travellers, then making them into tasty meat pies for other customers. She and her husband later joined the bandit gang in their campaign at Mount Liang but died in the battle of Quingxi.
An exceptional print, rare and from Kuniyoshi’s finest and most important series. Colour and impression are fine, condition is excellent. The print is trimmed slightly as is the case with most prints of the series.
Published by Kaga-ya Kichiyemon, S2.5 in Robinson, Kuniyoshi: The Warrior Prints, Phaidon 1982.
35.5 x 24.5 cm.