Utagawa Sadahide (1807 - 1873) Departure of the Japanese Fleet of Hideyoshi, Korean War of 1592, mid - 1860’s. Oban Pentaptych.
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This wonderful object is a rare survivor indeed. The complete set of five prints that form a great panorama of the departure of the warlord and unifier of Japan, Hideyoshi, en route for the conquest of Korea in 1592.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537 - 1598) was the hero general above all others: a 'peasant samurai' he rose through the ranks of Oda Nobunaga's army, eventually to usurp him and finally to unify Japan, establish its feudal system, (isolating the samurai class) and lay the foundations for the Tokugawa administration that followed. He was fiercely ambitious in his foreign campaigns toward China and Korea - which were eventually to be his downfall and a shadow on his legacy. He was also, cunning, horrifyingly brutal and obsessive.
Hideyoshi had successfully unified Japan through a series of brutal civil wars. The invasion of Korea was a means to hold onto power by expanding Japan’s imperial reach, silencing and distracting his critics and adding to Hideyoshi’s personal power and prestige. As is so often the case, the efforts were largely unsuccessful and despite the depiction in this print, which magnifies Hideyoshi’s enormous but badly equipped fleet, the Korean Navy turned out in fact to be superior.
This is a wonderful print, a vast panorama measuring over 1.2 metres wide. I know of one other copy sold at auction in England some time ago; otherwise the print in its entirety is unknown. I think it likely that it depicts the departure of the Japanese fleet rather (as is supposed elsewhere) that it shows the invasion itself. The villages and the temple in the foreground of sheet one (reading from left), suggest a Japanese setting as does the sweep of the fleet and the absence of fighting. This is a glorious display and one that was perhaps more expedient to show in revolutionary, Meiji Japan of the 1860’s - given that the invasion was a drawn out and largely unsuccessful affair.
Sadahide manages to show the recession of the fleet across the five sheets, with the far off ‘column’ nearly disappearing in the right panel without changing the flat-on horizontal of the shoreline and horizon… something that Chinese and Japanese art was adept at controlling and a trick that Cezanne would introduce into European art at the end of the century.
Sadahide was a student of Kunisada, but quickly became one of the leading artists of the early Meiji period. His specialism was of geographical prints and Yokohama-e, and he developed the art of panoramas such as this which are called, Ichiranzu ("Panoramic View"). These bird's-eye view paintings of cities, painted from the latter part of the Edo period through the early part of the Meiji period, freely distort space and exaggerate specific objects while adopting the perspective drawing method of painting. As such, they are excellent resources for providing clues as to the images that the people of the day had of their cities and which area of these cities attracted their interest.
The five sheets are complete and full size. The colour and impression are excellent, the prints are not joined, are unbacked and in excellent condition. The paper has some scuffing consistent with age but a remarkable discovery in its entirety.
1200 x 36 cm.