Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden: Hakumenrokun Teitenja, 1827. Oban.
Click here for a full-size image.
Another outstanding and important print from Kuniyoshi’s ground breaking series, 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden from 1827. This vigorous warrior is Hakumenrokun Teitenja in the Japanese translation of the story. Describing his prowess and final quest, the Japanese translation in chapter 112 reads thus (taken from Of Brigands and Bravery: Kuniyoshi's Heroes of the Suikoden by Inge Klompmakers, p. 170 with a full-page illustration on page 171):
Kuniyoshi's portrait of Teitenja refers to chapter 112 when the hero chases an enemy fleeing to his castle near Nochigishū. Poison arrows and large rocks are shot and thrown at Teitenja as he approaches the castle gate. The Ryōsanpaku hero continues his search for the enemy but dies shortly thereafter from his injuries.
The Chinese original describes the character thus:
The man on the right had a clean fair complexion, and his face was adorned with a mustache and a goatee. He was tall, slim, broad-shouldered, and handsome. His head was bound with red silk. He came from Suzhou, and his name was Zheng Tianshou. But because of his good looks he was known as the Fair-Faced Gentleman. He had been a silversmith and, since childhood, had been very fond of spears and staves. Eventually he drifted into the gallant fraternity. While passing Clear Winds Mountain he met and fought the Stumpy Tiger fifty or sixty rounds, with neither able to best the other. Yan, impressed by his skill, invited him to join them as third in command.
Kuniyoshi illustrates the wildly popular Japanese novelisation of c1812 very precisely… we see the arrows descending, boulders crashing and character of Hakumenrokun prying a cliff fall with an iron bar.
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.
A really tremendous and vitally important print. The print has been professionally re-lined by a paper conservator. 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. There has been fading to the vestigial yellow, otherwise the print is in good stable condition and is a fine example from this outstanding series. Prints from this series in comparable condition are currently on sale online for around $4,000.
Publisher: Kaga-ya Kichiemon.
24 x 36 cm.