Toshikata, Lord Yoshiie and Cherry Blossoms

Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) Lord Yoshiie and Cherry Blossoms, 1893. 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. The subject like so many of this series of triptychs from the 1890’s was of the great generals of the warring states period. In this case it is Minamoto Yoshiie (1041 - 1108), a  warrior who shaped the Minamoto clan into an awesome fighting force that was feared and respected throughout Japan. Later generations of Minamotos worshipped Yoshiie as an almost divine ancestor.

The son of Minamoto Yoriyoshi, Yoshiie aided his father in the battles known as the Earlier Nine Years’ War (1051–62), which ultimately resulted in the defeat of the Abe clan and the ascendancy of the Minamoto in northern Japan. Yoshiie’s military prowess so awed his enemies that they called him Hachiman-Taro, “the firstborn of the God of War.” Twenty years later, in a series of battles lasting from 1083 to 1087, Yoshiie’s reputation for ferocity in battle was not diminished. He established the absolute sovereignty of the Minamoto in the north. Unlike the Earlier Nine Years’ War, however, this conflict was fought without any commission from the court and was evidence of the growing independence of the Minamoto clan.

Toshikata has placed him next to cherry trees in order to recall his famous poem written at the Nakaso barrier on the futility of conflict:

I thought this gusty barrier was a mere name,
but why do the wild cherry blossoms so cover the path?

He is shown here contemplating the trees; he was a renowned archer hence the full quiver and his retainers carrying bows. Indeed some cherry trees along the Sumida river are known as Kassenba (battlefield) in memory of the site where Yoshiie defeated the Abe clan.

An absolutely stunning and dramatic design. The colour and the impression are fine. Some bleed to the unstable Meiji red. There has been surface wear and three stains to the top of the centre sheet. Overall the condition is fair.

Publisher: Matsuki Heikichi.

71 x 35 cm.