Yoshitoshi, Selection of 100 Warriors - Hida no Tatewaki Wearing a Red Wig

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Selection of One Hundred Warriors: Hida no Tatewaki Wearing a Red Wig, 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.

This is an extraordinary print for this moment in Japanese art. Here is a wholly western face… the wig is a western style, not a traditional piece of armour or kabuki eccentricity. The picture is in reality an experiment in drawing in the western manner. The conventional title, Hida no Tatewaki Wearing a Red Wig, is I think, though, misleading. The assumption is that Yoshitoshi is a Japanese artist and therefore this surprising image must be a Japanese man wearing a wig. I have stuck to the conventional title but I do really assume that this is not a wig at all. The manner of this portrait is closest really to a portrait of an American sailor of the period… . There is a useful photograph of US sailors on the American mission to Korea from 1871 and the double breasted shirt and short collar are consistent with Yoshitoshi’s drawing. I imagine that this is a quite early Yokohoma-e portrait of an American. The title is misleading (deliberately so)… this is not a warrior from Hideyoshi’s army! There is an implication though that the west will massacre Japanese culture with calm efficiency. Yoshitoshi was prescient in that at least.

The portraits from this series carry with them 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.

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. Yoshitoshi very clearly quotes 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 of the Kuniyoshi set wholesale for inspiration in this series.

The impression is very fine indeed, an early printing of the only edition. Colour is lightly faded, particularly the yellow, and there is some slight damage to the signature cartouche which has been restored. There is some yellowing to the paper consistent with age. An outstanding and rare design.

Published by: Ohashi (Daikyōdō).

37 x 25 cm.