Kiyochika, Taira no Tadanori About to Sleep Under a Cherry Tree

Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847 - 1915) Taira no Tadanori About to Sleep Under a Cherry Tree, 1884. Oban Triptych.

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This striking print is by of Kobayashi Kiyochika, a highly regarded artist of the Meiji. Described as, "...the last important ukiyo-e master and the first noteworthy print artist of modern Japan,” by Richard Lane in Images from the Floating World, The Japanese Print, Oxford University Press 1978; he illustrates very nicely the growing bonds between east and west at the time.

This is a very fine example of the direction that certain artists, (among them Yoshitoshi and Toshihide) took in defiance of the waning popularity of kabuki and woodblock printing. This recognisable, western, painting style was an attempt to fuse both traditions within the medium of the block print. The results are outstanding - probably the finest quality of drawing, block cutting and sheer bravura ever produced from the resistant wooden block. Later artists of the early 20th century used many of the same techniques of overprinting, fading, blending and tonality but with an overly plagiarised style that lends them - to our eyes at least - a chocolate-box quality. Not the case with these superb triptychs which hold the delicate balance of two aesthetically unsympathetic cultures.

This lush nocturne shows the warrior samurai Taira no Tadanori resting beneath a cherry tree. His armour is stacked behind him; the astonishing trunk of the cherry tree rears up in the foreground of the leading two sheets. Taira no Tadanori (1144–1184) was the brother of Taira no Kiyomori, and one of his generals in the Genpei War against the Minamoto. He was killed in the Battle of Ichi-no-Tani.

Tadanori is the titular character in a Noh play by Zeami; in the play, his spirit returns to the mortal world to plead for recognition for having authored a famous poem. According to the legend, a poem was found in his quiver after his death. The poem reads:

Were I, still travelling as night falls, to make a sheltering tree my inn, then would my host tonight be the blossoms themselves?

Kiyochika assembles these fragments… the armour of the warrior, the sheltering tree, night falling, the falling blossoms, the quiver... in a moving composition that commemorates the warrior and the poet. A fine triptych, colour, condition, impression all very fine.

Published by Daikokuya Matsuki Heikichi.

72cm x 36cm.