Yoshitoshi, New Forms of the Thirty-six Ghosts - Omori Hikoshichi

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) New Forms of the Thirty-six Ghosts: Omori Hikoshichi, 1889. Oban.

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For those who say that Yoshitoshi was a madman haunted by demons, this series New Forms of the 36 Ghosts must be a disappointment. Drawn towards the end of his life, the series is reflective and restrained and contains none of the bizarre creatures of the imagination he is associated with. The title contains a double meaning; the word shinkei can also mean nervous, and there is more suspense and edginess in these prints than there are shrieking ghosts or hideous devils. The subtlety contributes to the powerful and highly regarded work and this print is a fine illustration of Yoshitoshi’s achievement.

At first glance we see the selfless act of a samurai carrying a woman across a river on his back. Look more closely and the print reveals clues to its true meaning. The hero, Omori Hikoshichi - a samurai from the 14th century - is persuaded by a young woman to carry her across a stream. Halfway across Hikoshichi looks down and sees the reflection of a demon’s horns - a hanya demon - in the water in front of him. Yoshitoshi has pictured the moment; we see the reflection of the horns and we see the troubled expression on Hikoshichi’s face as his right hand reaches beneath his robes and prepares to draw his sword.

There are two explanations for the story, the first is straightforward - Hikoshichi draws his sword and slays the demon just in time. The second is not supernatural and tells the story of the daughter of the defeated warlord Kusonoki Masashige seeking retribution for her father’s suicide, putting on a hanya mask before exacting revenge. I am inclined to believe that Yoshitoshi is referring to the former since the subject matter for the series is supernatural and the girl is not holding the mask from which we see the reflection. It is common in Japanese prints for the ghostly aspect of a character to be revealed through the use of mirrors, shadows and reflections.

The series is the last significant work before Yoshitoshi’s death in 1892. The border of the image is drawn frayed, as if eaten by worms. Burnishing to Hikoshichi's hat and sword hilt; and embossing to the white robe.  Exquisite bokashi (shading) to the robe.

The print is a fine copy from the first edition. Untrimmed and with the full margins intact, the colour is fresh and the impression very fine. The condition of the print is very good. There is a faint centre crease.