Yoshitora Utagawa, The Genpei War , Battle

Original Japanese woodblock print.

Artist: Yoshitora Utagawa (ac. 1830-1880)
Title: The Genpei War
Publisher: Sanoya Kihei
Date: c. 1846-1848
Dimensions: (L) 25.1 x 37.1 (C) 25.5 x 37.2 (R) 25.6 x 37.1 cm
Condition: Some pinholes. Minor slit in paper and wormhole. Some faint stain and water stains. Restored tear right side of the central panel.

This early work by Yoshitora weaves together the multiple narratives of the Battle of Yashima (1184). The heady design reflects the confusion and tumult of the conflict, which resulted in the desperate withdrawal of the Taira forces by the sea in lieu of the Minamoto clan's surprise land attack. A large coastal pine tree hangs over the right panel. Below, Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189) and his legendary companion, Benkei (1155–1189), arrive on horseback to the scene. The highly skilled archer, Nasu no Yoichi (c. 1169-1232), can be seen riding his horse in the sea. Taunted by the Taira army, Yoichi fires an arrow to hit a fan atop their ship, a target set up to test him by a lady on the opposing side. The warrior Taira no Tomomori (1152–1185) wields a large anchor, coiling the rope around his body and foreshadowing his eventual suicide by drowning. Onboard a boat in the left panel, the child emperor is held up by his grandmother as they attempt to leave the violent battlefield.

Yoshitora Utagawa (a.c.1850 - 1880)

Yoshitora Utagawa was a woodblock print artist active towards the end of the 19th century in Japan. Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), neither his date of birth nor date of death is known. Yoshitora was a pupil of Kuniyoshi Utagawa (1798-1861), however, he was expelled due to artistic differences. He went on his own path and changed his artist name to Mosai, producing prints of warriors, kabuki actors, beautiful women, and foreigners in particular (Yokohama-e).

The limited contact with the West imposed by the Japanese regime in the Edo period (1603-1868) created endless curiosity that artists were eager to satisfy, although the situations they imagined were sometimes far from being accurate. It is evident from these prints that the Japanese were fascinated by the clothing, the strange habits and the occupations of the foreigners.

For much of the Edo period Japan adopted a sakoku (closed country) policy. Sakoku was a system in which strict regulations were placed on commerce and foreign relations by the shogunate and certain feudal domains. Trade was limited, except for the port of Nagasaki where the Dutch and Chinese were the only ones allowed to operate. In 1859 the port of Yokohama was opened to foreigners, and ukiyo-e artists, primarily of the Utagawa school, produced hundreds of woodblock print designs in response to a general curiosity about the newly arrived visitors.

Yoshitora was a leading designer of these prints and he also produced a number of landscapes derived from Western engraving. In the Meiji period that began in 1868 he also worked for newly established newspapers.

More Information
Print FormatTriptych
ArtistYoshitora Utagawa (a.c.1850 - 1880)
SubjectSamurai & Male
Size(L) 25.1 x 37.1 (C) 25.5 x 37.2 (R) 25.6 x 37.1 cm
publisherSanoya Kihei:1800-1875