Kuniyoshi, 53 Parallels for the Tokaido Road - Yoshiwara Station

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Fifty-three Parallels for the Tokaido Road (Tokaido gojusan tsui) Yoshiwara Station: Panic Among the Taira, 1845-46. Oban.

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Kuniyoshi returns again to one of his favourite themes: the Genpei wars; that is the conflict between the Taira and the Minamoto clans in the twelfth century that culminated in the decisive victory at the Battle of Dan-no-ura. Dan-no-ura was a turning point in Japanese history, since it established the powerful shogunate under Minamoto Yoritomo and the skirmishes gave rise to some of the great warrior myths of Japanese history, more often than not celebrating the deeds of Minamoto Yoshitsune, the greatest of the Minamoto generals.

In this print, Kuniyoshi shows the battle of the Fuji River of 1180, one of the important battles to take place early in the conflict. An interesting link to the previous print is the dykes built along the Fuji by Takeda Shingen in order to minimise flooding and still in existence today. Attempting to return from exile, Yoritomo sent messages of goodwill to the Takeda Clan and asked for their assistance against the greater armies of the Taira who had pursued him to the banks of the river. This print is sometimes known as Waterbirds at the Battle of Fuji River, a reference to the story that flocks of birds in the river at night, convinced the Taira of a much greater army lying in wait for them and they fled the scene without a blow being exchanged.

The series is fascinating in that it was a collaboration of the three great artists of the day: Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige and Kunisada. The exact number of prints is unknown, but it is assumed currently that they produced 30, 20 and 8 respectively. The series is a precursor to one of the very best series of prints of the 19th century, A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets of 1847 in which the same three artists collaborated on a series celebrating the great Japanese poems. There are many compositional similarities to the two series… the unusual, aberrant cartouches, and the one third, two thirds division of the oban page. Both series were attempts by artists and publishers to circumvent the recently imposed censorship laws for woodblock prints.

A fine battle scene by Kuniyoshi; the legendary waterbirds are visible in the top right of the picture and the observation of the inelegant skirmish between the two sides is intimately realised. The print is full size, fine colour, impression and condition with slight centre fold.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo, Signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga.

36cm x 25cm.