Abe no Hirafu (c. 575 – 674), fighting a great bear in the snow

Tsukiyoka Yoshitoshi
Edo 1839 – Tokyo 1892
Abe no Hirafu (c. 575 – 674), fighting a great bear in the snow

Woodblock print, nishiki-e
Vertical ôban, 365 x 247 mm
Signed: Oju Yoshitoshi hitsu, and red Taiso seal
Publisher: Funazu Chūjirō
Dated: Meiji 13 (1880)

Series: Mirror of Famous Commanders of Great Japan
Dai Nippon Meishô Kagami

Very fine impression from the first edition, fine colour and condition, uncut margins.

Abe Hirafu, an early medieval commander, was celebrated in the 8th-century Chronicles of Japan (Nihon shoki). In the service of Empress Saimei, he commanded 180 ships to subdue the north-eastern Emishi nations. At the end of the conflict, Hirafu brought two brown bears and seventy bear hides to the Imperial court.

Yoshitoshi depicts an episode recounted in the Nihon shoki when the warrior overcame one of the bears. The focus of the print is the bear itself: this massive creature occupies the entire composition, its hulk even surging beyond the borders of the design and spilling into the margin.

Another impression is at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (accession number: 11.18096).

Roger Keyes, Courage and Silence: A Study of the Life and Color Woodblock Prints of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: 1839-1892, Ann Arbor 1983, series no. 334.

Eric van den Ing and Robert Schaap, Beauty and Violence, exhibition catalogue, Eindhoven 1992, no. 27/42.
Chris Uhlenbeck and Amy Reigle Newland, Yoshitoshi: Masterpieces from the Ed Freis collection, Leiden 2011, no. 78.

Price: 1,850.00 €

Yoshitoshi was one of the last great masters, and one of the great innovative and creative geniuses of the Japanese woodblock print. At the age of eleven, he was enrolled as a student of the school of Kuniyoshi. His early work is full of extremely graphic violence and death, perhaps mirroring the lawlessness and violence of Japan around him, which was simultaneously going through the breakdown of the feudal system imposed by the Tokugawa shoguns, as well as the impact of the West. By 1871, Yoshitoshi became severely depressed. Unable to work, he hardly produced any prints for two years. In 1873 he recovered from his depression and changed his name to Taiso, which means great resurrection. In 1882 he was employed by a newspaper. This gave him a steady income and marked the end of years of poverty. His last years were among his most productive, not only in terms of quantity, but also in terms of artistic quality. In 1885 the first designs of One Hundred Aspects of the Moon were published. This series was extremely popular. In 1888 the series 32 Aspects of Customs and Manners was published, a series of women's prints. In 1889 a new series with ghost subjects came on the market: New Form of 36 Ghosts. The symptoms of mental illness became more and more frequent. Nevertheless Yoshitoshi continued to work. He died in 1892 from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 53.

Other works of the master