Yoshitoshi, Selection of 100 Warriors - Aizu Komon Kagekatsu Examining a Head

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Selection of One Hundred Warriors: Aizu Kōmon Kagekatsu Examining a Head, 1868. Oban.

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This print by Yoshitoshi is from a very rare and sought after series of, in fact, sixty-nine prints that depict the artist’s impressions of the aftermath of violent battle. It is an enigmatic series of prints. The inspiration is a set of drawings made of a first hand visit to the site of a massacre that closed the rebellion of the 1868 revolution and ushered in the new Meiji Restoration.

Unusually perhaps, the pictures do not represent the battle or its aftermath but depict famous figures of Japanese history and legend from the sixteenth century. These portraits, though, carry with them the first hand observation.. the acts, the manner… the atrocity of what Yoshitoshi and his apprentice, Toshikage, witnessed at what is now the site of the funfair at Ueno. Perhaps at a time of revolution Yoshitoshi thought to hide his horror behind safe non-political and historical imagery. In any case, despite his disgust and despair at the graphic slaughter of the old order, he became very popular and indeed famous and successful only a year later, in 1869. The series dates from early in Yoshitoshi's career, and the artwork constitutes some of his most important work from this period. It was one of his first major series, but only 65 of the 100 prints were ever published (although sketches of several un-produced prints also exist).

He became known at this time as an artist of horror and cruelty. The current standard text on Yoshitoshi is called Beauty and Violence, and many of the prints in this series show deeply disturbing images of violence and blood-drenched depravity.

Kagekatsu was a highly successful although tremendously violent warlord in sixteenth century Japan. He was skilled not only in battle but in picking the right side in the constantly shifting alliances of the period of the warring states. Yoshitoshi pictures Kagekatsu coldly examining a severed head. The stillness and pathos of the scene is tremendously moving. The drawing is one of the finest and most considered of the series and whilst gruesome, it abjures the showy violence of some of the other prints.

The print is full size with a left margin. Colour is very good, the impression is fine… sharp and very clean. The series was printed onto a very thin paper and the prints are prone to wear and tear. This sheet is in very good or even better condition, some surface soiling and light wear. The print is very rare, one of the outstanding designs of Meiji art, a testament to a violent and convulsive revolution that destroyed one brutal culture with yet more brutality, a metaphor honed by Yoshitoshi.

24.5 x 36 cm.