Kuniyoshi, The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden - Ryuchitaisai

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden: Ryuchitaisai, 1827-1830. Oban.

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This dynamic print of Ryuchitaisai is from the series The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden. The figure coils beneath the assault of cables and grappling hooks that threaten to ensnare him, thrashing out with his sword and disentangling one that has lodged in his hair with his left hand. Kuniyoshi daringly uses an exaggerated perspective on the shallow drafted boat in the foreground, neatly cutting the composition nearly in half with a bold diagonal. Against this motif, he arranges the woven mats of the boat in the foreground and delicate, flattened plants of the marshes in the distance. The scene is intentionally dramatic since it depicts Ryuchitaisai’s suicide. During the Fang La campaign, Ryuchitaisai leads the attack on the enemy's naval base. The enemy bombards Ryuchitaisai’s ship and he is trapped in a sea of fire. Enemy soldiers use hooks to grab hold of him. Afraid of being captured by the enemy and suffering humiliation, Ryuchitaisai draws his sword and commits suicide.

Published in 1827, this great series established Kuniyoshi as the foremost artist of his generation. It was the first major series of full colour, single sheet warrior prints; Kuniyoshi nevertheless had precedents in similar experiments by Kunisada, Toyokuni I and Shuntei. Kuniyoshi found his audience though and his future success was assured.

The stories of the Heroes of the Water Margin (Suikoden) were originally medieval Chinese folk tales, exported to Japan and rewritten for the Edo audience. They tell a fantastical tale of outlaw bandits with supernatural strength who are eventually cajoled into defending the Chinese Empire and as a result, pardoned by the Emperor. Kuniyoshi’s series is certainly his finest and most innovative work. Ryuchitaisai goes by the name Ruan Xiao'er (The Lord Who Stands His Ground) in the original Chinese tales.

An exceptional print, rare and from Kuniyoshi’s finest and most important series. Colour and impression are fine, condition is excellent. The print is trimmed, particularly on the left hand side.

Published by Kaga-ya Kichiyemon, S2.53 in Robinson, Kuniyoshi: The Warrior Prints, Phaidon Press 1982.

36 x 25 cm.