Yoshitaki, Ogura Shohei in the Saga Rebellion

Utagawa Yoshitaki (1841 - 1899) Ogura Shohei from the series Meiji Juu nen Senshimei Meiden, 1877. Chuban.

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This print is a real rarity. We cannot find any record of it anywhere at the moment, nor the series from which it comes. I wonder if it was suppressed at some time even, given its political nature. It represents events arising out of the last of the conflicts following the revolution of 1864, namely the Saga Rebellion.

The series of which we are showing two examples, has echoes not in the portrayals of actors in the Osaka School tradition for which Yoshitaki is known, but from the Utagawa school and its strand of musha-e - warrior prints - favoured by Kuniyoshi and Yoshitoshi. The form, especially in the cartouche, is taken pretty completely from Yoshitoshi’s Biographies of Modern Men of 1865 - 1866. See especially number 22 in that series, Kurihara Saisuke Dodging a Bullet. Significantly, Yoshitoshi’s series was composed of portraits of historical figures who had supported the now deposed shogunate… a mirror of the rebellion of 1874.

Ogura Shohei was an historic character, a supporter of Eto Shimpei the organiser of the uprising against the government in protest at what he and his followers saw as a betrayal of guarantees of joi… ("repel the barbarian") enshrined in the revolution. A photograph  exists of Shohei when he studied in London in 1973, a sincere and stubborn looking young man. He assisted Shimpei in escaping and provided a boat for the dangerous ventures. In the meantime there were violent battles in Saga and it is these exchanges that Yoshitaki appears to commemorate in the series. Ogura was captured and imprisoned but went on to fight for Saigo Takamori in the Southwest war and was killed on the battlefield. Shimpei was arrested and beheaded, his head put on display in an uncharacteristic throwback to pre-revolutionary times.

We are left with an enigma, in as much as the series, well produced with burnished and lacquered details and oxidised metallics on the gun fire, remains pretty well unknown even in Japanese museums. This is a fine print nevertheless; Shohei is anachronistically dressed in traditional shogunate armour dodging western bullets and shells with only a sword in his defence. This then is propaganda and a trick learnt from Yoshitoshi… the Imperial troops are dressed as western armies, seen in bottom right, whilst the heroic underdog fights on for traditional and honourable values.

A fine print in fine condition. Colour and impression all excellent, unbacked and no issues.

26 x 19 cm.