UTAGAWA KUNIYOSHI (1797-1861)
EDO PERIOD, C.1849-52
A Japanese woodblock print triptych entitled Minamoto no Yoshitsune Miyako wo uchitachi Saikoku e (The Ghosts of the Taira Warriors attack Yoshitsune's Ship in Daimotsu Bay), published by Enshuya Hikobei , with censors' seals for Fuku and Muramatsu, each sheet signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga and sealed Yoshiriki, oban tate-e, each approximately 36cm x 24.8cm. (3)
See the British Museum, access. no.1907,0531,0.230.1-3, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, access. no. JP1565 and the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, access. no. 11.30566a-c, 1992.568a-c for other examples of this triptych. Also, see Christie's London, From Artist to Woodblock: Japanese Prints Online, 5-12 July 2018, lot 62, for another example.
This triptych is a good example of Utagawa Kuniyoshi's use of dynamic compositions and large objects (in this case, the ship and waves) spilling out of one sheet onto the other. Kuniyoshi established the warrior print, depicting legendary figures performing heroic achievements, as a major genre. Many of his designs feature yokai (spectres and other monsters), and these demonic depictions catapulted him to success.
This striking design depicts the Ghosts of the Taira Clan attacking Minamoto Yoshitsune (1159-89) in Daimotsu Bay after their brutal defeat. According to legend, all ends well as the devout monk Benkei prays to the Gods of the Sea who dispel the ghosts and put an end to the storm. Some say that the cries of the restless Taira ghosts can still be heard emanating from the waters at the site of the legendary battle. Crabs that can be found nearby bear markings similar to samurai masks and they are believed to carry the souls of the restless warriors.