Yoshitoshi, Annals of the Tokugawa Administration - Shogun Hidetada

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Annals of the Tokugawa Administration: Shogun Hidetada, 1876. Oban Triptych.

This very fine and beautifully composed triptych is by Taiso Yoshitoshi, one of the outstanding artists of the late nineteenth century. The print is from a little-seen but notable series, Annals of the Tokugawa Administration, and it portrays the Shogun Hidetama executing a daring escape on a barge across a river.  His pursuers are shown in the right hand panel amid the aftermath of battle and ensuing skirmish.

Yoshitoshi excelled at these night time action scenes, skillfully using contrast (as here in the escaping egrets) to illuminate the action. The print shows Yoshitoshi use his mature and very personal technique, balancing the method of traditional Japanese art with visually complex western perspective and drawing method. It’s a hard thing to pin down, this hybrid style and speaks volumes (albeit unconsciously) about the actual and very physical convulsions of Meiji Japan. Putting aside the particulars of dress and uniform, there is more here of the English Edwardian illustrator - Arthur Rackham perhaps - than the brush of Kuniyoshi. Rackham post dates Yoshitoshi by decades however and I think it is fair to accord Yoshitoshi the originality of his complex graphic style.

Hidetada (1579 - 1632) was a shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty who effectively ruled Japan until the restoration in 1868. At this time, the shoguns such as Hidetada were active war lords, accomplished in battle and in the arts and fiercely warlike and politically devious. Aside from his military and political activities, he is maybe best remembered as a persecutor of Japanese and foreign Christians. The print, (and the series) betrays Yoshitoshi’s lingering admiration for the old system of government, the egrets which dominate the scene are symbolic of elegance, beauty and sacredness. The birds, like the shogun are escaping; they are linked in other words by their sacred flight.

A fine print in very good condition. Left and centre panels joined and backed with album backing paper. Colour and impression are fine. Woodgrain visible in the prow of the boat and there is embossing to the feathers of the birds. Mica is sprinkled in the upper reaches of the sky.

Published by Yorozumago.

74cm x 36cm.