Yoshitoshi, Essays by Yoshitoshi - Kaidomaru and Yamauba, 1873

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Kaidomaru and Yamauba from the series Essays by Yoshitoshi, 1873. Oban.

This stunning and confusing print is by Yoshitoshi, who with Kunichika, dominated the Meiji print scene at the end of the nineteenth century. The print is one of the famous images of ukiyo-e, perhaps because of the subject matter - the red boy amid the fairy-tale scene of  the rabbit and falling blossom - but more probably the odd dissonance in the western style of drawing, especially with the detailing of Yamauba, the boy’s mother. There is a great deal to ponder in this print. The colour, the flattened space - obviously the Japanese writing in the cartouches, all suggest a Japanese hand and yet the background, the boy and the rabbit are rendered in Yoshitoshi’s clearly recognisable, and modern mature style. The drawing of Yamauba is strangely western, clearly borrowed from Renaissance art, a madonna perhaps, and she sits as a godly, other worldly presence in this quietly unsettling scene.

Kuniyoshi experimented with western transcriptions off and on throughout his career. A close model for this style can be found in his series 24 Paragons of Filial Duty from 1848. In the Kuniyoshi we see the exact model for the rendering of the tree trunk and in the figures, the debt that Yoshtoshi owes to the chiaroscuro modelling to create depth in the body. There is also a hesitancy of touch in the description of the hair and features which owes more to the delicacy of the European steel plate engraver’s baren than it does to the calligraphic sweep of the Japanese brush.

The print remains one of the icons of nineteenth century Japanese art nevertheless and is one of those rare images that once seen, is never forgotten. Kintaro, the red boy as he  is sometimes called, is a Japanese folk hero of supernatural strength, raised by his exiled mother in the mountains and said to be able to communicate with animals and the tengu (mythical woodland demons). He is often shown fighting or refereeing matches between mountain animals. In this print he evokes something of the mother and child of classical painting, seemingly about to clamber onto his mother’s lap and feed.

This print is rare, despite its being widely reproduced, notably deserving a full page in the definitive Beauty and Violence: Japanese Prints by Yoshitoshi. There are many variations in the seals in this series but as Richard Kruml points out, as yet, no research has been done into their significance.

Full-size with margins. Fine impression and colour. Overall very good condition, some edge frits to the right margin.

Signed Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi; published by Masadaya.

24cm x 36cm.