Yoshitoshi, The Departure from Kagoshima to Kumamoto Castle

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) The Departure From Kagoshima to Kumamoto Castle, 1877. Oban Triptych.

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As far as we can tell this triptych remains unrecorded by Roger Keyes and is, if not entirely unknown, is obscure in any reliable form to current scholarship. Yoshitoshi worked on nearly a dozen triptychs that form a kind of series (and certainly a kind of obsession) during 1877. The subject matter was the rebellion of samurai from Satsuma Province and their subsequent suppression.

Nearly a decade after the successful 1868 revolution and subsequent restoration of the Meiji monarchy, Saigō Takamori, a member of the government, disagreed strongly with the speed of modernisation, despite having overseen the development of the new army and other reforms. He returned to his home town of Kagoshima and set up a military school which soon attracted other disaffected samurai. The government responded by sending warships and a full scale conflict ensued. Although dismayed by the revolt, Saigō was reluctantly persuaded to lead the rebels who fought two significant battles against the Meiji government: the Siege of Kumamoto Castle and the Battle of Tabaruzaka.

After a failed assault on Kumamoto Castle, Saigō settled for a siege. Imperial reinforcements eventually forced their way through the rebel lines, lifting the siege. The remnants of Saigō's army retreated and Saigō and his remaining loyal samurai were encircled and annihilated at the Battle of Shiroyama. Mortally wounded, Saigō was killed by an aide in order that his death look like suicide.

This print, (unrecorded) shows the crucial moment that the doomed Saigō sets out to besiege the castle at Kumamoto, the decisive assault that would define the rebellion. He is seen in a western admiral’s hat seated on horseback, pointing with his sword. The other pointing figure at centre is likely to be Kirino Toshiaki. After his suicide, Saigo was decapitated by a fellow samurai. It is not clear what was done with Saigo's head immediately after his death. The head was somehow retrieved by the government forces and was reunited with Saigo's body, which was laid next to that of his deputies Kirino and Murata; an act that was witnessed by the American sea captain John Capen Hubbard. Nevertheless, a myth persists that the head was never found. As a consequence of his actions and death, Saigō Takamori is sometimes known as the last samurai.

The print is important, very rare indeed and no other copies are known outside one Japanese museum. It makes a useful contribution and completes the other Kagoshima triptychs of 1877

Three sheets, unbacked attached with margins. Colour and impression are fine, the condition is very good, some old creases and scuffing but no major issues.

75 x 36 cm.