Yoshitoshi, Hakamadare Yasasuke and Kidomaru Fighting with Magic

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Hakamadare Yasasuke and Kidomaru Fighting with Magic, 1887. Vertical oban diptych.

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Perhaps one of the finest designs we have ever shown, this great piece bristles with energetic drawing, a menagerie of creatures, and a deep sense of mystery. It is so very difficult to place Yoshitoshi’s mature style in context. The influence of Kuniyoshi is more or less absent here, as too is the prevailing Japanese style of the decade. Nevertheless, there is little evidence of western influence here either; no clumsy wrestling with the complex perspectives of the industrial scene nor manipulated classical drawings, filtered through the copy-books of Dutch traders. This art is it seems, wholly Yoshitoshi’s own, although its influence and resonance are everywhere in the later art of anime and manga (and hence the world) lending it a curious familiarity.

This is a rare piece and one of sixteen magnificent prints made by Yoshitoshi in this format in the 1880’s - not a series, but as a group nonetheless, surely his finest work.  In this piece, Yoshitoshi pictures two magicians. In the upper panel a fierce samurai has invoked a gigantic snake that bears down menacingly upon the figure in the lower sheet; who, with pine leaves wrapped in a parchment clamped between his teeth, invokes a flock of tengu - fierce, winged demons. This is a contest of magic - a popular theme for ukiyo-e artists - in this case between Hakamadare Yasasuke and Kidomaru. Popular scholarship maintains that these two characters are one and the same. Henri Joly has Kidomaru (in the lower panel) as a bandit follower of the Oni demon Shutendoji, killed by the followers of Raiko. Elsewhere he has Hakamadare as a commander under Raiko who becomes a brigand and learns magic, acquiring the ability to transform into a snake. Why Yoshitoshi depicts the one figure as two remains unknown - possibly he is showing two aspects of the same character.

The print is magnificent, the colour and impression are very fine indeed and the cartouche is embosssed with Hakamadare’s armour burnished and picked out in mica. The condition is fine apart from some slight trimming to the joined edges and the left hand margin.

Signed Oju Yoshitoshi ga, Published by Matsui.

69cm x 23cm.