Yoshitoshi, Beauty and Valour in Tales of the Water Margin - Matsugae Sekinosuke Glowering at a Rat

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Beauty and Valour in Tales of the Water Margin: Matsugae Sekinosuke Glowering at Rat, 1868. Oban.

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This unusual chuban series (Yoshitoshi hardly ever worked on the small scale), takes its lead from the very famous series of the 108 Heroes of the Suikoden by Kuniyoshi. Kuniyoshi’s series represents individual figures from stories of the semi-historical Chinese novel, Suikoden ("Shuihu zhuan" in Chinese).  The narrative tells of the adventures of a band of 108 rebels who sought refuge in the margins of Liangshan Marsh.  These rebel warriors sought to protect the poor and downtrodden, very much like Robin Hood’s band of outcasts in medieval England. They were eventually to win both favour and pardon for heroically defending the country from invasion. As with so much ukiyo-e, the story itself is apocryphal, the characters are invented wholly or else dramatically embroidered and it is the ‘idea’ of the series and its astonishing and inventive power that carries Kuniyoshi’s vision. Japan was, even as early as the 1820’s, aware that it was living on borrowed time. The hermetic, enclosed, feudal culture of the centuries old shogunate was decadent and crumbling.  Only two years after this print, Yoshitoshi was to witness first hand the slaughter of a civil war battle at Ueno Park between loyalists and modernists.

Yoshitoshi’s version veers madly from this earlier model in as much as the figures he represents are drawn from all over Japanese culture… kabuki, folklore, history etc. I suspect that this print is of Bando Mitsugoro IV in the role of Matsugae Sekinosuke. The presence of the rat indicates that the scene is a kabuki drama and it is certain that Mitsugoro IV played the role and the Kunisada of the same subject is a useful comparison. The drawing, the grimace that is a mie,  the curled brow and squint say actor, the stance says actor, the backdrop of the unconscious mind says actor… even the rat says actor if you compare it to other Yoshitoshi rats!

A fine deluxe Yoshitoshi with the rare and early three colour cartouche, in excellent condition. Some minor trimming. Colour and impression are all fine with burnished shomenzuri patterns.

Publisher: Kinkyu (Omira Kyujiro).

17.5 x 23.5 cm.