Yoshitoshi, Minamoto Yoritomo at the Hakone Pass

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Minamoto Yoritomo at the Hakone Pass (1860’s). Oban Triptych.

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This very unusual and quite stunning triptych by Yoshitoshi is missing from the usual catalogues and literature, making it a rare piece. The use of landscape here is highly unusual in Yoshitoshi’s work. Yoshitoshi was an artist primarily of people, of emotion, of extremes. In this very early piece, he has pictured a great Daimyo procession, unusually in the tradition of Hiroshige, with its dimunitive figures so dwarfed by the vast scale of the mountains and the foothills of the famous pass. Of course, this is all a fantasy… I doubt very much that Yoshitoshi ventured to Hakone, still less that he took a sketch book with him. He has also eschewed the standard view of the pass made famous by Hiroshige in the 1830’s - that multi coloured peak that became the shorthand symbol for other artists such as Kunisada. Yoshitoshi has here opened out the usual portrait slice of the peak and shown it from a different and probably imaginary viewpoint. He nevertheless reduces the mighty unifier of Japan to an insect like column of tiny figures, lost in the fleshly folds of the earth, reduced in stature and yet magnificent if only by the sheer number of individuals at his command. Unusual also is the fact that Yoshitoshi - such a student of character - does not identify the subject himself in any way: we are left with the impression of Yoritomo’s power but no clue as to the man himself.

Yoritomo was the founder of the Kamakura shogunate, or bakafu and a member of the Minamoto warrior clan. Yoritomo was banished in his youth as a consequence of his father's revolt against the reigning Taira family. In 1185 he defeated the Taira and in 1192 the emperor granted him the title of shogun, which made him the supreme authority over all military forces in the country. He established his own governors, placing him in competition with, and gradually superseding, the power of the imperial court; a structure which prevailed until the revolutions of the 1860’s. Yoshitoshi displays here his sympathy with the ancient regime, a sympathy that would last his whole life and cause him great anguish as Japan seceded from a feudal country to a modern, industrialised power in the 1860’s.

This is a rare print to be found in such fine condition. There is some slight overall trimming, but otherwise the piece is in magnificent condition and the colour and the impression are all fine.