Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Lin Chong, Water Margin, Vertical Diptych


Artist: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892)
Title: Lin Chong Kills Officer Lu Qian Near the Temple of the Mountain Spirit
Publisher: Matsui Eikichi
Date: 1886
Dimensions: Top: 25.8 x 38.0 cm; Bottom: 25.7 x 38.3 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

In the late 1880s Yoshitoshi designed a series of vertical diptychs that became some of the most outstanding examples of his work. The dynamic and dramatic setting of his characters, as well as the fine printing and subject choice are proof of Yoshitoshi's passion for the unusual, the obscure and mythological.


This print shows Lin Chong, a fictional character from 'Suikoden' (Water Margin), a 14th century Chinese novel about 108 rebels and heroic bandits residing at Liangshan Marsh. The story has been very popular in Japan since the Edo period for its political implications. The characters were outlaws and brigands, seen as men of honour who would rebel against bureaucracy, a Robin-Hood-like band that made the story of a revolutionary novel with implications resenting the authority of the time.


Lin Chong is one of the rebels and is described as having piercing eyes and a distinctive appearance that earned him the nickname 'Panther Head'. In some records, he is said to have been tattooed on the face and exiled to Cangzhou. While in prison, he is assigned to be a solo watchman at a fodder depot, however, this turns out to be a plot devised by an old enemy, Gao Qiu, who wishes him dead. During the night, the depot is purposely set on fire. However, Lin Chong has earlier gone out to buy wine and upon his return, he finds the hut collapsed under the weight of snow. Enraged, he manages to find and kill the culprits, offering their heads to a nearby temple. Soon after this incident, he joins the bands of outlaws Liangshan Marsh.


The clothes of the characters are printed with lacquer on the black areas. White gofun pigment is sprayed on the print to mimic falling snow. The scene depicted is right after the battle, the victim stabbed in the snow and the hut still burning in the background. Despite the dramatic event, Lin Chong looks pleased, having just served justice to the ones that have lured him into a trap.

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 FormatKakemono-e (Scroll)
ArtistYoshitoshi Tsukioka
SubjectSamurai & Male
DimensionsTop: 25.8 x 38.0 cm; Bottom: 25.7 x 38.3 cm
Condition ReportLight creases around the margins. Deeper crease and a small hole at the top of the bottom panel. Small hole on the edge of the top panel. Minor spots. Slightly oxidised on the fire area.