Toshihide, The Assassination of Kudo Suketsune

Toshihide Migita (1863-1925) The Assassination of Kudo Suketsune by Goro Tokimune, 1880’s. Oban triptych.

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This brilliant triptych by Toshihide reveals the sophistication of Meiji printing at its best. A stunning, startlingly modern design, it shows the murder of Kudo Suketsune at the hands of Goro Tokimune.

Kudo Suketsune killed Kawazu-Saburo who left two infant boys, Juro and Goro. Their mother remarried and they took their stepfather’s name of Soga. At five, they vowed revenge on their father’s death and by maturity they were committed to carry out the plan. After prolonged and complicated adventures they attacked the enemy but Juro was killed in the fight and, as we see in the print, Goro hunts down Kudo and kills him. The Shogun is moved to pardon Goro but in the end is obliged to order his execution.

There are numerous versions of the story in plays and dramas and it was a popular subject for ukiyo prints. Toshihide pictures Goro as a young hero - uncannily like the heroes seen today in modern comics and graphic novels. He is taut, muscular and romantically long haired. His clothes are strikingly coloured and patterned. On the left hand side, Kudo cowers in fear, unable to face his fate with honour. Billowing curtains, decorated with the Soga mon, open and close the scene as in a theatre and Toshihide uses a sophisticated western perspective to illustrate the luxurious precincts of Kudo’s palace. The print is a hugely accomplished piece of work, the use of bokashi across several blocks and the three sheets themselves working with the drawing to create a deep space and to pull our eyes to the cowering figure of Kudo.

Toshihide was a pupil of Yoshitoshi and studied western painting under Kunisawa Shinkuro  - both of these influences are very evident in the drawing and composition of the piece. These dramatic set pieces by Toshihide bring ukiyo-e to a close really; they are the final and successful marrying of the traditional and the western style and with few exceptions the art of Japan would move, like their technology, in a relentlessly western movement.

A fine print in mint condition, superbly executed in strong colours with extensive bokashi shading and burnished lacquer.

35cm x 72cm.