Kiyochika, The Battle of Kawanakajima

Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847 - 1915)  The Battle of Kawanakajima, 1890. Oban Triptych.

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This outstanding print is a conundrum. Commonly attributed to an almost unknown artist, Rosetsu, the print is certainly by Kiyochika. It is a rare piece, there are almost no records of its existence, but it is clearly from the hand of Kiyochika. The print shows a scene from the battle of Kawanakajima - most specifically, Uesugi Kenshin bursting into Takeda Shingen's headquarters.  The battles of Kawanakajima were fought in the Sengoku Period of Japan between Takeda Shingen of Kai Province and Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo Province in the plain of Kawanakajima, in the north of Shinano Province in the mid sixteenth century. There were five battles in all, the fourth culminating in the Uesugi forces reaching the Takeda command post, and one of the most famous single combats in Japanese history ensued. Uesugi Kenshin himself burst into the headquarters, attacking Takeda Shingen who, unprepared for such an event, parried with his signalling fan as best as he could, and held Kenshin off long enough for one of his retainers, Hara Osumi-no-Kami, to spear Kenshin's mount and drive him off. The print shows this famous moment almost exactly, Kenshin on his horse, Shingen parrying with his fan and so on.

The print is a simply astonishing and virtuoso piece of Meiji printmaking. The oxidised orange and purple inks shimmer across the surface of the paper which crackles and sparkles with embellishment, burnishing and colour. The drawing is exemplary, the retainer on the right hand sheet being especially and memorably realised. The colour, condition and impression of this piece are simply outstanding.