Kuniyoshi, 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden - Zhu Wu

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden: Zhu Wu (Jinkigunshi Shubu), 1827 - 1830. Oban.

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This very famous, though quite scarce print shows the magician and master strategist Shinkigunshi Shubu using magic incantation to banish a demon, shown in the upper left of the print.  Zhu holds an amulet in his left hand and a sword in his right. The demon is seen departing in a black cloud surrounded by the convention of mystical fire that signifies a supernatural event in ukiyo-e prints.

Outstanding in this image are the heavily embroidered robes bearing sun burst and floral designs. This is a well known and often reproduced image from the great Suikoden series that rescued Kuniyoshi and set him on the path to become the most successful Japanese artist of the nineteenth century. The series remains one of the most important series of Japanese woodblock prints ever made. Hiroshige’s Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road, for example, changed the way that the Japanese (and subsequently, artists in the west) looked at the landscape and represented their journey through it. Kuniyoshi’s Suikoden did the same job for Japanese representations of heroism, and notably, the individual hero; not to say the countless numbers of full body tattoos that have been inspired by the designs themselves and the designs inked on the skins of the individual characters. The series established him as one of the handful of pre-eminent artists of the nineteenth century; it was in every sense, a ground breaking body of work and one of those innovations that changed the course of art.

The series represents individual figures from stories of the semi-historical Chinese novel, Suikoden (Shuihu zhuan in Chinese). Zhu Wu is depicted in the novel as handsome-looking with blazing eyes and a long sleek beard. Dressed like a Taoist priest and often carrying a hand fan made of crane feathers, Zhu Wu is good in devising military stratagems and deploying soldiers in formation for pitched battle. He is thus nicknamed ‘Resourceful Strategist’… Kuniyoshi imbues him with magical properties, whilst admitting that there is no mention of this attribute in the novels! Wu ended his career as a Taoist immortal, one of the few heroes of the Water Margin to survive all the campaigns.

A very famous Kuniyoshi image; very good impression, some fading to the vestigial yellow. The print has been trimmed, which is very common for this series, as it was printed on over-sized paper and trimmed contemporaneously to fit Japanese albums. Surface wear. Overall condition is fair. Prints from this series in comparable condition are currently on sale online for around $4,000.

Publisher: Kaga-ya Kichiemon.

36 x 25 cm.