Yoshitoshi, 24 Accomplishments in Imperial Japan - Soga no Hakoomaru

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Twenty-four Accomplishments in Imperial Japan - Soga no Hakoomaru, c 1881. Oban.

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This simply wonderful print by Yoshitoshi is from his series Twenty-four Accomplishments in Imperial Japan - a series that took six years to complete. Publishing commenced in 1881, and the first 16 prints were produced by the end of that year; a long hiatus then ensued, and the remaining 8 were only finally published 6 years later, in 1887. The reason for the delay is not known. When publication resumed, and the entire group was published as a set, some of the prints in the first group were re-issued with different colours.

The quality of the printing on this sheet is quite simply outstanding. It must represent one of the pinnacles of woodblock printing at any time. This early example from the set is in the finest possible, mint condition. The block lines are completely fresh, with no fritts or chips suggestive of use, the colours sparkle and especially the gold printing to the flowered panel above Hakoomaru’s head. The print is a masterpiece of the block printer’s art. The very earliest examples of the set have the three-colour, bokashi text cartouche as shown here.

The design is fascinating… one would reasonably suppose that the stern, standing figure is the true subject of the print, glaring out at the viewer. In fact the real subject is the obeisant boy crouched behind the lead figure. The scene is from the boyhood of the Soga brothers - the wildly popular revenge tragedy, drama, novel of the Soga Monogatari.  In the twelfth century aristocrat Saemon Suketsune killed Ito Sukeyasu whilst hunting. The saga recounts how the two sons of Sukeyasu revenged themselves on their father’s assassin.

Yoshitoshi has chosen to show the boyhood of  Soga no Juro, whose childhood name was  Hakoômaru. After the death of his father the boy was sent to a monastery. The print shows a scene from the saga where the shogun Yoritomo visits the monastery accompanied by  Suketsune. This is the first chance that Hakoômaru has to see his father’s assassin. Not knowing who he is, Suketsune gives the boy the gift of a short sword, predicting his own death at the child’s hand. Kuniyoshi used the boyhood of Soga Juro as one of the illustrations to the great series of the Comparison of the One Hundred Ogura Poets in 1847. The entire series can be seen on yoshitoshi.net .

An outstanding print, colour and impression are very fine, condition is as new with the exception of binding trimming to the right margin.

Publisher: Tsuda Genshichi.

23 x 35 cm.