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Kuniyoshi (1797 - 1861)

Tametomo Encounters the Storm at Minamata in Higo Province

Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: c. 1836
Size (H x W): 15 x 30 (inches)
Publisher: Fujiokaya Hikotaro
Seals: Kiwame
Signature: Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga (R & L), Chororo Kuniyoshi ga (C)
Condition: Very fine color, impression and state.



This print unites Kuniyoshi’s favorite themes: the strength of the hero, the forces of nature, and the power of the supernatural. As Tametomo sails from Kyushu to Kyoto to seek revenge on the Taira clan, a dragon rouses a terrible storm. Similar to the 1849 print on page 11, Tametomo’s wife throws herself into the sea, as the tengu fly in from the top right corner. In the bottom left of the triptych, Tametomo’s son and loyal retainer find salvation on the back crocodile-shark. In this interpretation, Kuniyoshi conveys the power of the storm through the battered boat and the fear of its victims through the samurai who struggle to stay above the waves.

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 Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints were so popular in his time that he received requests for tattoo designs.