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Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)

Minamoto no Yoriie Watching Asahina Yoshihide Fighting Two Crocodiles at Kotsubo in Kamakura

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Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)
Minamoto no Yoriie Watching Asahina Yoshihide Fighting Two Crocodiles at Kotsubo in Kamakura
Woodblock Print
c. 1842
14" x 29"
Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga
very good color, state, impression, overall wear, missing small area left corner of right sheet, light wear, embellished with mica on right sheet.

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Questions about this piece? 212.688.0188


Sogawaya Yohei
Hama (censor seal)

About the art

In the central panel of this marvelous triptych, the legendary figure Asahina wrestles with one of two attacking crocodiles. The determined expression on our hero's face and his bulging muscles suggest that he is a strong fighter, yet the contrasting horrified and worried appearances of the spectators in the surrounding boats suggests that this may be a close fight.

About the artist

The son of silk dyer, Kuniyoshi Utagawa was born into the Igusa family in Edo. Little is known about his very early years, though he is said to have shown remarkable talent from a young age. Kuniyoshi began his ukiyo-e career as a pupil of Shunei. At age 14 he was accepted to study the art of woodblock printing under Toyokuni I and, in time, would become one of his most successful students. In 1814, he left Toyokuni’s studio to pursue a career as an independent Japanese ukiyo-e artist. Initially, he had little success, selling tatami mats in order to support himself. However, his fortunes changed in 1827 with his dramatic series 108 Heroes of the Suikoden. From that point on, the public hungered for his portrayals of famous samurai and legendary heroes. Kuniyoshi worked in all genres, producing some brilliant landscapes and charming bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women). He died in the spring of 1861 from complications of a stroke.


In direct contrast to the peaceful views of a scenic Japan provided by Hiroshige and Hokusai, the following decades saw a rise of the fierce, fearsome and fantastical in ukiyo-e. Kuniyoshi welcomed this changing public taste. He had a ravenous imagination and the full scope of his work reveals an aesthetic sensibility capable of assimilating almost any experience. No doubt, however, his particular genius felt most at home in the world of martial glory, where epic battles decided the fate of empires and fierce warriors clashed to the death. Utagawa Kuniyoshi's prints were so popular in his time that he received requests for tattoo designs.

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