Toshikata, Samurai and Landscape

Mizuno Toshikata (1866 - 1908) Samurai and Landscape, c.1887. Oban triptych.

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Toshikata is one of the outstanding artists of the Meiji period. In terms of his ability to draw the maximum amount of subtlety and delicacy from the woodblock medium he is every bit equal to and in some cases (like this print) superior to his mentor Yoshitoshi. This print is a graphical masterpiece, understated and yet brimming with knowing and great visual understanding.

The subject (and the print for that matter), is obscure. Toshikata produced a number of these stirring and technically extraordinary woodblock triptychs at this time. They are all evocations of the great Japanese commanders and generals of the past. The idea here was to inspire the growing nationalism of the Meiji state as they militarised and looked overseas for new conquests - the Sino-Japanese war was only seven years hence. This piece does more than celebrate a Minamoto or Taira general though. Certainly, the figure is magnificent, defiant, powerful and masculine, but he is set against a landscape of intense beauty and delicacy - printed as if painted and deliberately in the style of historic Japanese landscapes. This is the motherland, the rustic house and the babbling stream crossed via the little bridge and the ancient pine trees leaning towards the water. Kiyomasa (or whoever this is), in his brilliantly coloured armour stands at the gates of the national home, defending its borders, celebrating its beauty.

The quality of the drawing, the translation of sumi brush strokes and ink washes into the resistant medium of the cut woodblock is masterful. This is a very fine print indeed and from the last days of the art form before it was to be subsumed by new technology or diverted to mimic the sentimentality of western painting. Colour, condition and impression are all outstanding. Burnishing to the armour. Exceptional bokashi.

Published by Tsujioka Bunsuke; block carver: Wada.

36 x 71 cm.