Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, ‘A Mirror of Famous Commanders of Great Japan: Abe Hirafu’, 1880, Scholten Japanese Art

signed oju Yoshitoshi hitsu, with artist's seal Taiso, and publisher's date and address seal Meiji jusannen, nigatsu, nijuka; Higashifukudacho 2-banchi, shuppanjin Funazu Chujiro (Meiji 13 [1880], February 20) of Funazu Chujiro of Kinjudo

oban tate-e 14 3/4 by 9 7/8 in., 37.5 by 25 cm

Abe Hirafu was an early medieval commander from Japanese history who appears in the 8th-century Chronicles of Japan (Nihon shoki). In the service of Empress Saimei (594-661), Abe Hirafu commanded 180 ships to subdue the northeastern Emishi peoples. After the conclusion of the conflict, Hirafu brought two brown bears and seventy bear hides to the Imperial court. Yoshitoshi depicts an episode from the Nihon shoki in which the warrior subdues one such bear.

While the subject of the print is ostensibly Abe Hirafu, the focus is really the bear itself. Yoshitoshi emphasizes the extraordinary feat of felling a bear by focusing on the massive creature that fills the composition, even breaking through its borders and spilling into the margin. Skewered with arrows, its back legs are flung up into the air with his long claws penetrating the text cartouche as the brunt of its weight crushes two of Hirafu's warriors who are pinned beneath struggling animal. Hirafu, his wild hair and beard whipping in the wind and with his left arm caught in the bear's paw with the claws scrapping at his exposed skin, manages with his free hand to find purchase and finish the job.

Publisher: Funazu Chujiro of Kinjudo

Published:
Highlights of Japanese Printmaking: Part Five - Yoshitoshi, Scholten Japanese Art, New York, 2017, cat. no. 51

References:
Roger Keyes, Courage and Silence, 1983, p. 415, no. 334.42
Eric van den Ing & Robert Schaap, Beauty and Violence, 1992, pp. 117, 119, no. 27.42 (illus.)
John Stevenson, Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, 2001, p. 32, no. 36
Amy Reigle Newland & Chris Uhlenbeck, Yoshitoshi: Masterpieces from the Ed Fries Collection, 2011, p. 109, no. 78
Robert Schaap, Appendix II in Yoshitoshi: Masterpieces from the Ed Fries Collection, p. 162, no. 53 (illus.)
Ota Memorial Museum of Art, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: 120th Memorial Retrospective, 2012, p. 95, no. 141

About Tsukioka Yoshitoshi