Yoshitoshi, The Supernatural Beings at Shirazunoyabu in Yawata

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) The Supernatural Beings at Shirazunoyabu in Yawata, 1881. Oban Triptych.

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This is a very fine triptych from Yoshitoshi. It is most uncommon and I think an important contribution to the discussions surrounding the influences that operated between the European artists and the Japanese artists of the late nineteenth century. Outstanding here is the drawing, the vibrant colour and the sheer confidence of the design and the printing. Baffling to me, (and others) is the drawing of the demons on the right hand sheet. The physiognomy of the characters that are portrayed are almost entirely western, especially the central character of the right hand sheet. This gurning figure (it has been suggested) finds his ancestory in the satirical magazines of the nineteenth century such as Punch rather than in the engravings of fine art prints. That Yoshitoshi should have been influenced so much by 'low' rather than 'high' culture is in itself an intiguing thought. The print is a whirlwind of characters, patterns, small scenes and special effects. The printing is rich and varied with a wide variety of specialist techniques.

The scene is terribly enigmatic. It purports to show the popular Daimyo Mito Komon Mitsukuni in the centre and this is the conventional way that the print is described today. He is shown seated, in a pose of intense concentration, surrounded by accurately drawn skeletons in a cave, while banishing demons and monsters.  The various grotesques and demons point and gesticulate but, to be frank, show little sign of being banished or quelled. There is no explanation for the wholly European female character in the left hand sheet. My own feeling is that the print may have nothing to do with Mitsukuni. Daimyo Mito Komon Mitsukuni was a seventeenth century ruler who was known for his wisdom and benevolence and who was meant to banish evil in both supernatural and earthly events. The print could be wholly an imaginary scene from Yoshitoshi’s notoriously fevered brain or it may allude to some other lost story or folk tale.

It is nevertheless a remarkable and fabulous achievement. Colour and impression are fine with extensive mica embellishment and burnishing. It has some condition issues, there is a centre fold to each sheet and some wear to the centre sheet.

Publisher: Maruya Tetsujiro.

72 x 36 cm.