Gekko, Fudo-myo

Ogata Gekko (1859 - 1920) Fudo-myo, from Gekko’s Miscellaneous Drawings, 1886. Oban.

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This is a tremendous image and a masterpiece of late Japanese woodblock printing. The series, Miscellaneous Drawings, gathered together tales, stories and myths of Japan and pictured them in an extraordinary, realistic style. The prints defy normal woodblock technique having this soft, almost western watercolour quality. During his lifetime Gekko became internationally famous showing at the great European and American international exhibitions, winning prizes and tremendous acclaim. He is less well known these days but his prints are among the great achievements of Meiji culture.

The print shows Fudo-myo, one of the ‘Five Kings of Wisdom’ from the Shingen sect of Buddhism. A young priest, Yuten Shonin (1637 - 1718) is an historical character. He studied at the temple in Zojoji, (where the scene is set) and became influential with the fifth Tokugawa Shogun and his mother.  He eventually became Abbot at the temple and an important Buddhist scholar. The legend has it that the statue appears to Shonin as the living God, Shonin prostates himself and consumes the sword of wisdom, thereby gaining supernatural wisdom and enlightenment. This act of consummation is the subject of the print. The original setting and theme of the print was almost certainly inspired by a triptych of the same subject by Yoshitoshi.

We see the terrifying statue of the Fire-God holding a sword against a background of flames; Shonin kneeling at his feet unsure of his fate. The print is a masterpiece of printmaking, subtle bokashi shading and delicate embossing in the cartouche predominate. It is an outstanding supernatural subject. Unbacked; colour and impression are all fine, some minor creasing and toning to the paper.

35 x 24 cm.