Kiyochika, Ancient Patterns (Kodai Moyo) - Hotoke Gozen

Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847 - 1915) Ancient Patterns of Flowers (Kodai Moyo): Hotoke Gozen, 1897.  Deluxe Oban Triptych.

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One of the great achievements of the Meiji print scene, this short series of triptychs by Kiyochika is a masterpiece of design, modernism and tradition. They are simply stunning pieces of work in their outrageous, cinematic scope and in the near miraculous way that Kiyochika weaves a reverence for the great history and traditions of Japan and the challenges of the new, modern state. Not only that, when looking at composition in the west, one has to wait decades before anything as bold as these designs becomes visible. These superb prints not only look back to the glories of Edo and Tokugawa art, but anticipate the revolutionary designs of western applied arts in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

The design, as said, is outstanding, but the quality of printing and production also reflect the excellence of Meiji printmaking at its best. It is hard to find a comparable boldness or similar style with which to compare these works. Kiyochika’s own work looks to the west in its use of kosen-ga ('light-ray pictures'), ukiyo-e prints employing Western-style naturalistic light and shade, possibly under the influence of the photography of Shimooka Renjo.  These prints are strangely neither influenced by Utagawa artists like Kunichika, and Yoshitoshi nor do they anticipate the bland western landscape style of the shin-hanga artists that were to dominate the early twentieth century.

A great design, Kiyochika pictures Hotoke Gozen on the left sheet in foreground scale whilst the two sisters Gio and Gijo occupy the distant space of the other sheets. Gio and Gijo had become nuns. Both sisters were popular shirabyoshi dancers in Kyoto, and Gio was a special favourite of Taira no Kiyomori.  When Kiyomori fell in love with a new dancer named Hotoke Gozen, Gio was forced to retire against her will, becoming a nun along with her sister and mother in Saga. Later, Hotoke left Kiyomori to join the sisters and become a nun as well. She is shown arriving in Saga on a cold winter's day, her head wrapped in a sheer white silk scarf, a few wisps of hair blowing loose beside her face. The three nuns wait for her on an open verandah huddled in cloaks and scarves, a vase of delicate purple flowers set out to welcome her. Bare grasses wave in the grey winter sky behind them.

The vogue for looking at past ages like this was popular at the turn of the century, Chikanobu was making his series, A Mirror of the Ages on the same theme. These triptychs are hugely ambitious though and deserve the status that they enjoy today.

Fantastic print of the first edition, colour and impression are very fine, condition is fine except for antiquarian inscription 'Spirit of Winter' in top left and trimmed margins, superb.

Published by Takekawa Seikichi.

72cm x 36cm.