Welcome to the first autumn exhibition of prints at the Toshidama Gallery. This selection looks at how male physical conflict was enacted in Japanese woodblock prints. Particular emphasis is put on the gangsters of Edo… the Brigands and Bandits of the title. In the extended essay on our blogger site, we look at the peculiar fascination that the shopkeepers, tradesmen and merchants had with the romanticised but violent street gangs of Edo and Osaka.
This is particularly noticeable in the double portrait of An no Heibei and Hotei Ichiemon both actor portraits in role. These were, after all, no better than hooligans; and yet here they are elevated to hero status. The same can be said of the great hero of kabuki - a bandit with no redeeming features - Ishikawa Goemon. We are showing a superb diptych of Goemon from a collaboration between Shigeharu & Utagawa Kunihiro, a rare print to find with both sheets intact. Yoshitoshi’s fascination with banditry is illustrated with another print from his series Biographies of Modern Men from 1865. This time it is a portrait of Habakari Yukichi, reading by a stone lantern, a member of one of the gambling gangs that fought pitched battles over rival turf. Yoshitoshi is more sombre though in his portrayal of massacre and slaughter at the hands of hastily recruited rednecks, in two prints from A Selection of One Hundred Warriors… a record of his witness of a massacre at Ueno before the revolution.
There is martial conflict in a superb Kiyochika triptych of Akugenta Yoshihira from the series History of Japan of 1882 and of course another superb Suikoden hero from Kuniyoshi’s ground breaking series of 1827. We have one female warrior - Tomoe Gozen, battling with a fallen man in a typical combative print by Yoshitoshi - a fine quality and rare warrior print.
We hope that you enjoy the show, and do keep returning to the gallery as we are planning a packed schedule of exhibitions for the autumn. Thank you again for visiting and supporting the gallery. Every show has up to 10,000 words written in either the catalogue notes, the site essays and the supporting blogs. It is our sincere hope that the work we put in widens the general understanding of Japanese woodblock prints everywhere.