Yoshitoshi, The Story of Tamiya Botaro

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) The Story of Tamiya Botaro from A New Selection of Eastern Brocade Pictures, 1886. Oban Diptych.

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There is so much to say about this print it is hard to know where to start. Immediately, the powerful image and design of the piece are outstanding - but there is in this piece the disquieting naturalism, a western eye in the portrayal of the nursemaid drawing water and this contrasts so much with the strangeness of the scene and the outlandish vegetation of lotus flowers and pumpkin blossoms, that we are put in mind perhaps of a fairy tale.

The scene here is a well known revenge tale from the middle ages. Tamiya Ganpachiro has been killed in 1642 by a jealous fencing master, his orphaned child Botaro (pictured seated) vows to take revenge on his father’s killer and spends his youth training as a swordsman with the encouragement of his nursemaid Otsuji (seen at the well). At the age of seventeen Botaro avenges his father’s death and Otsuji enters holy orders having vowed to do so if her charge is successful.

Yoshitoshi pictures the nursemaid in a powerful and active pose and the child with a quiet dignity. Yoshitoshi has by the mid 80’s adopted much of the western style of drawing that was to overwhelm native Japapnese style by the end of the century and yet there are many cues here that root the picture stylistically in Japan. The huge leaves of the background have their roots (literally) in the many manga sketches of similar scenes by Hokusai and the colouring derives a great deal from Hiroshige who also pictured the scene and from which print Yoshitoshi also borrowed much of the drawing and composition.

The series draws its inspiration from kabuki plays, this story featuring in the play Osanago no adauchi (A Child’s Revenge).

This is a very fine Yoshitoshi, the condition and colours are almost mint, the impression is also very fine. Fine embossing to the dress. The two sheets are attached and trimmed to the image on three sides, trimmed into the cartouche on the top edge. Backed onto Japanese album paper.

Published by Tsunashima.

Illustrated on page 136 of van den Ing & Schaap, Beauty and Violence, Society for Japanese Arts 1992.

46cm x 34cm.