Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) was a ukiyo-e style artist renowned for his depictions of Japanese warriors.
Kuniyoshi was one of the great masters of ukiyo-e printmaking and a member of the Utagawa school, the most influential school in late 19th century Japan for the creation of woodblock prints. He was born in 1798 and was the son of a silk-dyer.
At the age of 12, he was recognized for his drafting prowess and became a pupil and apprentice of the master printmaker Utagawa Toyokuni. While he is particularly known for his depictions of warriors, he also created images of women, actors, and felines in his work. He died at the age of 63 having gained recognition as one of the last masters of ukiyo-e printmaking.
He produced hundreds of images of warriors throughout his career, and in the new collection "Kuniyoshi's Warriors", Rising Sun Prints is excited to present some of the most striking as a curated gallery.
Following the popularity of tranquil landscapes, as seen in the work of Hokusai and Hiroshige, tastes were shifting towards a desire for art that depicted the fantastical and fearsome. Capitalizing on this Kuniyoshi first created his woodblock prints of warriors in the 1820s with his series One hundred and eight heroes of the popular Suikoden all told (Tūszoku Suikoden gōketsu hyakuhachinin no hitori).
The series took inspiration from a famous Chinese legend, Shuihu Zhuan, and comprising a single sheet of depictions of warriors wielding weapons and posing in dynamic battle stances. He followed up this series with numerous others, illustrating legendary Japanese heroes and highlighting the ghostly, bizarre and exciting in their presentation. A novelty of his work was drawing the warriors with tattoos -- which soon became a style in Edo (now Tokyo).
The Rising Sun Prints collection Kuniyoshi's Warriors is a curated selection of some of the most iconic images from Kuniyoshi's body of work. One of the highlights is the depiction of Oda Nobunaga, the famed 16th-century warlord who attempted to unify Japan at a time when individual local warlords ruled fractionally. He was known as a brutal warrior and suppressor of those who opposed him. His fierceness is depicted here with his front-facing pose enticing the viewer with his gaze.
Also included is Inoue Daikuro Nagayoshi, which illustrates the warrior bearing a large gun with a standard bearing a skull behind him. It depicts a warrior from the series Heroic Stories of the Taiheiki, showing historical figures from a time of civil war in Japan in the 16th century. Created during a time of censorship in Japan, the warrior's name was altered slightly to subvert suspicion as publishing historical subject matter from this time was forbidden.
The Attack of December 14, 1702, stands out in this collection as incorporating landscape into the composition. It depicts the legendary tale of the revenge of the forty-seven rōnin (or masterless samurai), avenging the death of their master by attacking the city of Edo and killing Kira Yoshinaka, the man who had dishonored their master two years earlier. The work depicts the samurai scaling the building of the town in search of Kira. Kuniyoshi's interest in Western art is seen here as the scene uses linear perspective.