Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden: Konseimao Hanzui (Fan Rui) wrestling demons, 1827-1830. Oban.
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What a quite fantastic piece of art this print is, from the peerless series of 1827 - 30 by Kuniyoshi, The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden. In this dynamic design Kuniyoshi pictures the Chinese bandit hero Fan Rui dismounting his horse and fighting off an airborne attack of tengu and other demons. The success of this series helped establish musha-e as a major genre of ukiyo-e. The Edo public became fascinated by the exploits of a group of legendary 14th century bandits from China, popularised in Japan in a new adaptation and illustrated by Katsushika Hokusai between 1805 and 1838. Capitalising on its success, Kuniyoshi published this revolutionary series of prints in 1827. Possibly Kuniyoshi’s finest and most important series, these prints burst onto the woodblock scene with their bold colours, exotic settings and richly decorated surfaces. He pictures the heroes as having superhuman strength, being richly tattooed and engaging with supernatural creatures.
Fan Rui (his Chinese name) was said to be a skilled sorcerer, earning the title ‘Demon King of Chaos;’ as well as a skilled martial arts fighter. He could also control the wind. He joined the bandit heros of the water margin and was one of the few who survived their military campaigns. He lived out his life, like so many warrior monks, studying Taoism.
Kuniyoshi echos the Chaos of the character with a shower of stones and debris and a storm of winged demons. The design is dominated by the twisting, rearing horse and the quarter staff forming the strong diagonal of the print and the bracing, contrary leg of the hero. The lower part of the print is dominated by the great bulk of the figure who appears constrained by the margins of the page.
A fine, classic print in fine condition, very good colour and a notably early impression of the first edition. Later editions have the demon blocks completely redrawn and printed in monochrome. A copy of this edition is in the British Museum London.
Published by Kagaya Kichiemon, signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga. Robinson: S2.36.
37cm x 25cm.