Kuniyoshi, A Mirror of Heroes of Our Country - Yamaki Hangan Kanetaka

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) A Mirror of Heroes of Our Country (Honchô eiyû kagami): Yamaki Hangan Kanetaka, 1858. Oban.

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A tremendous warrior print from late in Kuniyoshi’s career. It is from  a series that revives his earlier warrior prints and not without some controversy. This print contains a fine visual joke… a narrative in the teasing helmet balanced on the tip of the pole sword (naginata), visible from the side of the room screen. We are witnessing the last moments of the Taira general, Yamaki Hangan Kanetaka ambushed at his lavish mansion by Hojo Tokimasa, the Minamoto clan leader’s deputy. The scene is taking place in 1180, at the start of the Genpei Wars (1180-85) during which the ruling Taira Clan, after attempting to install a puppet emperor, were defeated by the Minamoto clan, led by Minamoto no Yoritomo at the Battle of Dan-no-ura.

We see Yamaki stealthily approach the decoy helmet, his sword is raised but there is already an arrow piercing his coat. Death is certain, rage is written in his face… notice how Kuniyoshi has emphasised his clenched fists.

We know that he is a Taira official because his house is decorated with paulownia flower designs - the symbol of government. There is an interesting anomaly; Kuniyoshi draws the pattern of the storm outside, continues it through the shoji screen but mysteriously, the figure is absent. The title of the series is in the red, upper left cartouche, Kanetaka’s name is on the block next to it.

This is a very good late warrior series. The printing is rich and delicate, colour and impression here are all fine. The condition is very good overall but there is some surface abrasion on the right hand side and the right and bottom edges are slightly trimmed. A great Kuniyoshi warrior print, dynamic and scarce.

Publisher: Kagaya Kichiemon.

35cm x 24cm.