Yoshitoshi, Sagas of Beauty and Bravery - Shiroki Komakichi Slashing at a Will-o'-the-Wisp

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Sagas of Beauty and Bravery (Biyu Suikoden): Shiroki Komakichi Slashing at a Will-o'-the-Wisp, 1866. Chuban.

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This unusual series, in chuban format, stems from early in Yoshitoshi's career. In style as well as subject matter the series owes a huge debt to his teacher Kuniyoshi. The subject of the fifty prints is obvious from the title: that of the Suikoden - the 108 Heroes of the Water Margin. Yoshitoshi, eccentrically though, chooses to use Kuniyoshi's precedent, (Kuniyoshi did not complete the series) but then adds a variety of extra characters from legend, stories and folk tales as well as some popular kabuki roles. The series becomes a virtual compendium of imagery and narrative from woodblock art and popular fiction, some of which - confusingly for the viewer - makes little sense at times. Nevertheless, it is a fine series and well regarded, the prints are crisp and tight and well produced and the depictions clearly show the inventiveness that was to follow, later in Yoshitoshi's career.

This example shows the character Shiroki Komakichi slashing at a Will-o'-the-Wisp with his sword. The appearance of marsh gas and marsh gas fires was the cause of a great deal of superstition by the Japanese of the Edo period and the phenomenon was attributed to the activity of evil spirits and often associated with the malevolence of foxes. When needing to represent a supernatural occurrence, artists would often use the coiling, flaming motif as a shorthand.

The impression and colour are fine, the condition is good with some scuffing, to the edges especially. There is a copy of the print in the MFA Boston.

Signed Gyokuro Yoshitoshi, published by Oumiya Kyujiro.

17cm x 24cm.