Yoshitoshi, Biographies of Modern Men - Habakari Yukichi

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Biographies of Modern Men: Habakari Yukichi Reading by a Stone Lantern, 1865.  Oban.

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This series by Yoshitoshi is quite early in his career and the first of his print series proper. His teacher, Kuniyoshi, had died in 1861 and after trying  a career in kabuki portraiture, he started to produce the curious modern hybrids for which he became famous. These prints - like this series - combine contemporary conflict, contemporary violence with traditional stories or at the very least, traditional means of representation. There is a sense of radicalism, of defiance about these prints. The later series, Selection of One Hundred Warriors from 1868, attempts the same thing. Here we have a series drawn in the manner of Kuniyoshi’s great series Stories of True Loyalty of the Faithful Samurai of 1847. But there is nothing at all heroic about the subject matter. This series commemorates not a great battle, or historic heroes, or selfless sacrifice. The entire series of thirty-six prints depicts a real pitched battle between two rival street gangs!

In 1849, two gambling rings led by rival gangsters started a power struggle. The toughest was led by Lioka Sukegoro. The smaller, led by Hanzo Sukegoro, drove off the opposition, even after police intervention, and the fight continued despite fatalities and suicides. Yoshitoshi’s series glorifies the struggle and devotes an entire sheet to each man. The details of their lives would have been available in the broadsheets of the time and the populace considered  them tremendous heroes. There is presumably a political dimension to this… Yoshitoshi siding with a restive populace against a corrupt and decadent government. Yoshitoshi was quickly to mourn though, the passing of the traditional culture of the Tokugawa.

This print shows a gang member, his deeds forgotten, reading by the light of a stone lantern. A knife at his feet identifies his character.

An early series, this print is an early impression, pin sharp and with fine colour. The sheet is full size in fine condition.

Signed: Kaisai Yoshitoshi hitsu.

Publisher: Iseki (of Manyō-dō store).

35cm x 24cm.