Kuniteru, Panorama of the Forbidden City

Utagawa Kuniteru (1808 - 1876) Panorama of the Forbidden City, 1894. Oban Triptych.

Click here for a full-size image of the centre panel.

Here is a lovely print,  a quite beautiful fantasy - a view of China from Japan every bit as strange and removed as a willow pattern plate on an English dinner table. It is a curiosity since the date - 1894,  the year of the Sino-Japanese war - would not suggest any kind of appetite for charming foreign views of an enemy state… let alone the atypical portraits of the Emperor and his consort which appear in the two vignettes on either side. I suppose that it is just possible that it predates the conflict by a few months and was an officially sanctioned attempt at appeasement, but this seems unlikely.

Nevertheless, it remains an oddity as far as the subject is concerned. It is also very rare, there is only one other copy I know of in the Municipal Library at Hakodate, and it would be rare in any case as possibly the only positive view of the Chinese to come out of Japan during the 1890’s! There is a slim possibility that since  China was effectively ruled by the ruthless Empress Dowager Cixi, that this print which celebrates the actual and reforming Emperor was a way to show support for a modernising and outward looking ruler, one who would die young having been under house arrest since 1898. It is exquisitely imagined, drawn and printed, there are many nods in the direction of traditional Chinese painting. Those fantasy Confucian mountain temples and etiolated rocks and crevasses call to mind brush painting of the song dynasty. Curiously, the architecture of the red gates of the forbidden city is quite accurate. 

This is a very fine print by a well regarded Meiji artist. The colour, condition and impression… the bokashi shading and delicate tints are all very fine. Mounting residues on the reverse.  Slight tear to the centre sheet.

71 x 36 cm.