Kuniyoshi (1797 - 1861)
Koman Swimming across Lake Biwa with Minamoto Banner Attacked by Sanemori (Taira Clan)
This print captures the moment that Koman, the heroine who was given the responsibility of protecting the Minamoto banner from their sworn enemies of the Taira clan, jumps into Biwa Lake to avoid being captured. The treasured Minamoto banner is clutched in her teeth. Koman is unluckily spotted by a pleasure barge, which is carrying Sanemori of the Taira clan. Kuniyoshi illustrates the large, luxurious barge with vibrant colors and beautiful, golden decorations. The elegantly stylized sea foam resembles animal claws and hint at the forthcoming danger Koman will encounter.
Other impressions of this print can be found in Waseda University Theatre Museum and the British Museum.
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 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 forward, the public hungered for his portrayals of famous samurai and legendary heroes. Kuniyoshi Utagawa worked across 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 capturing 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. Kuniyoshi's prints were so popular in his time that he received requests for tattoo designs.