Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Nomi no Sukune Wrestling with Taima no Kehaya, Courageous Warriors

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Artist: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892)
Title: Nomi no Sukune wrestling with Taima no Kehaya
Series title: Yoshitoshi's Courageous Warriors
Publisher: Tsunashima Kemakichi
Date: 1883-1886
Size: 23.1 x 35.7 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

The subject matter of 'Yoshitoshi's Courageous Warriors' is drawn mostly from the history of the late Heian period, in particular, the Genpei wars (1180 - 1185) between the Taira (Heike) and Minamoto (Genji) clans and the Warring States period of the mid-15th to late 16th century. The series has thirty-tree designs and appears to have been a tremendous success, since at least four different editions are known.

Nomi no Sukune was a Japanese legendary wrestler, regarded as the ancestor and creator of sumo during the reign of Emperor Suinin(29 BC – 70). Proud of his great physical strength, Sukune challenged Taima no Kehaya in hand-to-hand combat and defeated him.

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 FormatOban (Vertical)
Artist NameYoshitoshi Tsukioka
TitleNomi no Sukune wrestling with Taima no Kehaya
SubjectSumo Wrestlers
Dimensions23.1 x 35.7 cm
Condition ReportTrimmed, minor spots, slight misregistration.