Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Great Battle of Yamazaki, Warrior


Original Japanese woodblock print.

Artist: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892)
Title: The Great Battle of Yamazaki
Publisher: Yamashiroya Jinbei
Date: 1865
Dimensions: (L) 24.5 x 36.3 (C) 24.7 x 36 (R) 24.5 x 36.2 cm
Condition: Restored top right corner of right panel. Some restored holes. Discolouration around margins due to previous mounting.

Except for a few patches of mountain and forest, the whole scene is covered in a dense fog. As fallen warriors squirm and writhe, a few remain dignified amidst the squabble. The Great Battle of Yamazaki in 1582 was a decisive battle for Toyotomi Hideyoshi over Akechi Mitsuhide, confirming his seat as ruler of Japan. Hideyoshi managed to turn Mitsuhide's advantageous location against him. Lodged in between mountains and rivers, tactically trying to place himself in areas of key defence, Mitsuhide was eventually defeated through a combination of espionage and arquebus fire. This early work by Yoshitoshi, whilst bearing resemblance to his teacher Kuniyoshi Utagawa, already shows the dramatic poses and movement known to the artist. On the right panel a fallen warrior with a broken sword barely manages to get back up again, his dishevelled hair draped over his face. In the left and central panel, a face-off between two warriors becomes the focal point amidst the disarray of the squabble: one thrusts a naginata curved spear with his entire body, whilst his opponent moves to parry from above.

Yoshitoshi Tsukioka

Yoshitoshi Tsukioka was one of the leading woodblock print artists during the Meiji era (1868-1912) and one of the last to work in the traditional ukiyo-e manner. Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), he showed a strong interest in classical Japanese literature and history. When he was 11, he became a student at Kuniyoshi Utagawa’s studio. Under his teacher’s guidance, he showed exquisite draftsmanship and learned how to draw from life, something not necessarily part of the training schools of painting and illustration in Japan.

Yoshitoshi’s rise as an artist came at a time when Japan was faced with great changes and challenges. The new Meiji era (1868-1912) brought many conflicts between those loyal to tradition and those wishing to embark on a process of forced modernisation and adoption of western values. These sentiments, along with having witnessed some of the violent uprisings, influenced his early career, with intense, often disturbing images that reflect turmoil and pain. Even so, many other prints from this early period show whimsical touches, with reinterpretation of themes seen in his teacher Kuniyoshi’s works. With deep cultural roots, Yoshitoshi’s style was dynamic and distinctive: he was known for experimentation in style and genre, as well as for his innovative works. He worked on series depicting kabuki actors, bijinga (pictures of beautiful women), warriors, monsters and ghosts. Supernatural themes abound in his later work, showing a fascination for old Japanese folk stories.

The publishing of Yoshitoshi’s most popular series 'One Hundred Aspects of the Moon' commenced in 1885 and spanned a wide variety of subjects, such as warrior, animals, ghosts, natural phenomena, beauties and others. The artist’s early tendency for gore and horror was replaced by images of lyricism, calm, spirituality and psychological depth. 'Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners', published in 1888, shows Yoshitoshi’s ability to portray emotions like no other artist of his time, presenting women of various background and eras in Japanese history, each with distinct traits.

In 1889, the series 'New Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts' started to be published, showing images of apparitions, mostly based on folklore and plays, depicted powerfully and imaginatively. This was, perhaps, a catharsis for the artist who claimed to have seen ghosts and strongly believed in supernatural beings. Many of Yoshitoshi’s late works were acclaimed at a time when western techniques of mass production such as photography were making the woodblock obsolete, breaking new ground by portraying intense human feelings through a traditional medium. He became a master teacher and had notable pupils such as Toshikata Mizuno and Toshihide Migita.

More Information
Print FormatTriptych
ArtistYoshitoshi Tsukioka
SubjectSamurai & Male
Dimensions(L) 24.5 x 36.3 (C) 24.7 x 36 (R) 24.5 x 36.2 cm
PublisherYamashiroya Jinbei