Yoshitoshi, Selection of 100 Warriors - Goto Mototsugu on Horseback

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Selection of One Hundred Warriors: Gotō Mototsugu on Horseback, 1868. Oban.

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This print by Yoshitoshi is from a very rare and sought after series of, in fact, sixty-nine prints that depict the artist’s impressions of the aftermath of violent battle. It is an enigmatic series of prints. The inspiration is a set of drawings made of a first hand visit to the site of a massacre that closed the rebellion of the 1868 revolution and ushered in the new Meiji Restoration.

Unusually perhaps, the pictures do not represent the battle or its aftermath but depict famous figures of Japanese history and legend. These portraits, though, carry with them the first hand observation.. the acts, the manner… the atrocity of what Yoshitoshi and his apprentice, Toshikage witnessed at what is now the site of the funfair at Ueno. Perhaps at a time of revolution Yoshitoshi thought to hide his horror behind safe non political and historical imagery. In any case, despite his disgust and despair at the graphic slaughter of the old order, he became very popular and indeed famous and successful only a year later in 1869.

He became known at this time as an artist of horror and cruelty. The current standard text on Yoshitoshi is called Beauty and Violence.  Many of the prints in this series show deeply disturbing images of violence and blood-drenched depravity. This picture does not. This print depicts the sixteenth century hero, Gotō Mototsugu, on his horse; he gathers the reins and looks to our right, heroic and defiant. There is a code at work and despite the stylistic sympathy that Yoshitoshi had with modern times, he remained nostalgic for the lost medievalism of the shogunate. Strange though how at a similar time, England was embedded in a similar nostalgia for its own heroic and medieval past. Yoshitoshi may well have been printing a portrait of a sixteenth century warrior but in England in the same year, Edward Burne Jones was painting St George in full plate.

The link between what Yoshitoshi saw at Ueno and the historic subject that he depicted is lost. The print depicts the samurai Gotō Mototsugu and during the siege of Osaka, Gotō was one of the fiercest generals in the Western Army. Harmed by a stray bullet and unable to stand, he took his life rather than surrender. After his death, Mototsugu's samurai were easily defeated and his head discovered by enemy forces. In this print Mototsugu carries the banner of his leader Naitō Masanaga.

The face is modern and western, the design and foreshortening are equally indebted to Italianate styles that Yoshitoshi would have been familiar with at Kuniyoshi’s studio where he was apprenticed. Most tellingly - and we are showing the prints together on the same page - Yoshitoshi very clearly quoted Kuniyoshi’s portrait series Portraits of the Faithful Samurai of True Loyalty from 1853. The series deals with similar themes of loyalty, violence and cultural despair. The drawings are directly borrowed from western portraiture… Yoshitoshi takes the style, layout and mannerisms wholesale for inspiration in this series.

The impression is very fine indeed, an early printing of the only edition. Colour is lightly faded particularly to the yellow. There is some yellowing to the paper consistent with age. An outstanding and rare design.

Published by: Ohashi (Daikyōdō).

37 x 25 cm.

£440.00