Toshikata, Kato Kiyomasa Preparing for the Battle of Ichi-no-tani

Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) Kato Kiyomasa Prepares for the battle of Ichi-no-tani, 1895. Oban triptych.

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This print and the other prints we have shown by Toshikata represent the high point of innovation by woodblock artists working at the end of the nineteenth century. One has to bear in mind that the extraordinary subtleties of shade, tone, colour and surface are achieved using unyielding blocks of wood carved with steel chisels. The variety of effects on a print such as this is frankly staggering.

Toshikata is one of the outstanding artists of the Meiji period. In terms of his ability to draw the maximum amount of subtlety and delicacy from the woodblock medium he is every bit equal to and in some cases (like this print) superior to his mentor Yoshitoshi. In this print, Toshikata depicts one of the popular heroes of Edo woodblock artists, Kato Kiyomasa

Kiyomasa was a daimyo of the sixteenth century and instrumental in the seven year Japanese wars with Korea. He is known to have been fierce, brutal and fearless but was also a cultured man: a Buddhist and a poet. He fought with the great leader Hideyoshi and was a renowned builder of castles and fortifications. He comes down through history as one of the Seven Spears of Shizugatake.   

This print shows the preparations for a great battle. After the Taira clan had been driven out of Kyoto by the Minamato clan, they moved north looking to find support among provincial lords. At Ichi-no-Tani they made camp close to the sea. It lay on a small coastal strip with the sea to the south and a steep cliff to the north.  Yoshitsune was the younger brother to Yoritomo, the head of the Minamoto clan. He was a smart and courageous military leader, and decided to take Ichi-no-Tani by surprise by climbing down the steep cliffs with only 150 men. When Yoshitsune's troop was near enough, they set the Taira houses on fire using burning arrows. The enemy was caught completely by surprise. The Taira were either killed in combat or fled to their fleet which was anchored off shore. Among them were the leader of the Taira, and the young Emperor Antoku and his grandmother. Only a month later, the Taira were forever defeated by Yoshitsune at the famous naval battle of Dan-no-ura. 

Toshikata borrows very heavily from a print by his mentor Yoshitoshi, who himself borrowed the concept from Kuniyoshi. In the Toshikata,  Kiyomasa is preparing to make the morning descent of the cliffs. On the left sheet Ichi-no-tani lies unprepared. Kiyomasa glares out from the centre sheet whilst behind him in the right sheet his slimmed down army of 150 men prepare to make the descent.

Another superb, sophisticated print that stretches Meiji printing to the point of watercolour painting so subtle are the colour blends and delicate shades. Colour and impression are fine, small amount of surface wear, otherwise condition is fine. Unbacked.  This print is also in the famous Robert O Muller collection.

71 x 35 cm.