Beisaku, Distant View of Fengtianfu - The Bivouac of Japanese Troops

Taguchi Beisaku (1864 - 1903) Distant View of Fengtianfu: The Bivouac of Japanese Troops, 1894. Oban Triptych.

Click here for a full-size image of the centre panel.

Taguchi Beisaku was a student of Kiyochika Kobayashi. This print is much more famous than the artist who made it, appearing in several publications about the art of the Meiji and the art of the Sino-Japanese war. It is more often than not attributed to Kiyochika, since the style, subject and design follow very closely those of that artist. It’s a great piece and very typical of the art of the period - the jingoistic militarism of the Japanese in their first great and successful Imperialist venture - in this case against the Chinese.

By the end of the nineteenth century, ukiyo-e had really fallen from its position as the primary art form of the country. The decline of the theatre and lack of interest in the historic and mythic past had left the medium with few subjects with which to engage the public. Being at heart a popular form, the engine of the industry - the publishers, block carvers, printers and and so on - were unable to sustain the industry required to produce the work. There was a temporary respite in its decline however during the hostilities of the early 1890’s when public demand for images of reportage from the front line became overwhelming.

This print is quite outstanding. The control of shade and tone and colour within the picture is quite superb and in a potentially interesting twist to the fairly one-way traffic from east to west, possibly owes something to the work of Whistler and various of his nocturnes.  The best of these pictures are non-specific or non-combatant. In these genre prints, the artists were able to indulge themselves in beautiful evocations of night scenes with dense blacks and deep grisaille effects, as is the case here. The subject nominally is that of a Japanese medical unit with a distant view of a Chinese Province. In reality, the print is about the beautiful night effects at which these artists were so adept, the orange of the burning fire against the inky blackness of the night sky and the shadows of the trees and men.

For the men of the Japanese army, this would have been the first journey away from mainland Japan; for the Japanese people, it represented a journey into new, imperialist territory, both physical and emotional.

Of historical interest is the role played by Beisaku in the creation of the strip cartoon. As a cartoonist he is credited as playing an important role in the creation of narrative strips.  He created the first serialized short narrative cartoon in 1896, a six-panel cartoon run over three issues.

It is a fine print, full size in fine condition. Colour and impression are both fine. Exceptional bokashi shading throughout.

The print is reproduced in full in Japan at the Dawn of the Modern Age; Woodblock Prints from the Meiji Era, 1868-1912, MFA Publications, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 2001, p.99, pl.51.

Published by Takekawa Seikichi, signed Beisaku.

70 x 36 cm.