Yoshitoshi, A Country Genji (Inaka Genji)

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) A Country Genji (Inaka Genji), 1885. Vertical Oban Diptych.

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This is a famous Yoshitoshi print… one of the really famous images of Meiji art in fact. Yoshitoshi produced a number of vertical diptychs, erroneously called kakemono-e, in the 1880’s. They are some his very best work and this is no exception, with its subtle shading and delicate toned bokashi printing. The piece is a melancholy masterpiece and justifiably famous.

The title comes from Ryutei Tanehiko's serial novel Nise murasaki inaka genji ("False Murasaki and a Rural Genji") of 1829-42, which reset the 11th-century classic Tale of Genji in the 15th century. This scene comes from chapter 4.

The main protagonist Ashikaga Mitsuuji and his lover Tasogare escape the watch of her mother, Shinonome, and flee to spend the night together in an old temple. Yoshitoshi evokes both the mood and specific descriptive elements in the novel: the blind that Mitsuuji wraps round them to stop his sword shining in the moonlight; their wariness as they look out for Shinonome and her henchmen; the brilliant moon and the banks of cloud; the desolate moor with its tangle of plume-grass and miscanthus; and the sudden shower of rain before they glimpse the flickering temple light in the distance. The atmosphere of the landscape is heightened by the subtle printing, especially the effect of the clouds around the bird and moon, which varies in each impression. The cuckoo (Cuculus poliocephalus) or hototogisu has several meanings in Japanese folklore; but its use in these prints appears to be transient or elusive – much like the bird itself. Unlike in the west where its song heralds the arrival of spring, in Japan the cuckoo is associated with the coming of the summer months and it is associated with the longing of the spirits of the dead to return to their loved ones. Mourning, longing, melancholy; these are suggested maybe by its song and perhaps signals its persistent use in woodblock prints.

The popularity of Tanehiko's novel inspired something of a Genji craze, with associated hair-fashions and product names, and dramatised versions of the book. Tanehiko's novel was originally illustrated by Kunisada and it inspired many prints by other artists including Kuniyoshi and various of Kunisada's pupils.

A fine, romantic image, the lower sheet trimmed along the top edge and condition overall fair.

Published by Matsui Eikichi.

71cm x 24cm.