Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Scenes of Famous Places Along the Tokaido Road Station 79: Maisaka, 1863. Oban.
This striking early design by Yoshitoshi shows the magnificence of the Shogun’s entourage, carried on a huge and ornate barge, leaving the shore at Maisaka. It might not be fanciful to interpret this print and others in the series as images of poignant farewell. Prints from this late Tokaido road set do not often come onto the market and it occupies a curious position, perhaps to do with the circumstances surrounding its commission. The 250-years Tokugawa Shogunate was on its last legs: the enforced opening of Japan’s borders in 1854, followed by famine and crop failure and a collapsing economy had fatally weakened the Shogun’s power. He would lose authority to the Emperor just two years after this series was completed. As a sign of weakness and a poor grasp on power, the Shogun determined on a procession from the political capital Edo to the Imperial capital, Kyoto. In an unprecedented step, the authorities commissioned a woodblock series from fifteen of the leading ukiyo-e artists of the time - I think that this must be the first officially commissioned print series of all time. Artists included Hiroshige II, the aged Kunisada, Sadahide, the young Yoshitoshi and the young Kunichika among others.
This one series brings together the artists of the Utagawa School in one quite unique effort. From an art historical point of view, the fascinating aspect of all the prints is their homogeneity - despite the widely differing generations and individual styles it is very hard at times to distinguish between say, the work of the youthful Kunichika and Kunisada, now in his 78th year.
The series consists of possibly 160 prints, Horst Graebner on his site Kunisada Project has devoted a great deal of time to cataloguing all of the known prints and much of the information currently available on the series.
The prints in the series are notable for their high quality of production, but also the strong visual imagery used. Many, such as this one are graphically very inventive and there seems to be a clear, common effort to use the best possible motifs for each of the images. The print is trimmed to the image on three sides, Otherwise, condition, colour and impression are all fine.
Signed Ikkaissai Yoshitoshi ga, published by Kakumotoya Kinjiro.
35cm x 22cm.