MFA – 64.844(Museum of Fine Arts, Boson)
BM 2008,3037.10011(British Museum)
Wu Yong, The Clever Star (Chitasei Goyo) from the Series 108 Heroes of the popular Suikoden
Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797 – 1861)
Size: Vertical Oban
Signature: Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga
Publisher: Kagaya Kichibei (or as Kichiemon)
Approximate Publication Date: 1827
Utagawa Kuniyoshi in his body of work encapsulates the two hundred years of ukiyo-e print making and points toward the future. He displays in this series “108 heroes of the Popular Suikoden” his skill in creating highly animated single sheet prints with great color and detail, including quite extensive tattooing of the heroes, bridging between realism and fantasy.
This print is among the first five of the series which were printed in 1827. It is quite an elaborate print considering that until this point Kuniyoshi had minimal success as a ukiyo-e artist and the publisher allowed this elaborate work to be published. It was after the success of the first five prints that the publisher allowed Kuniyoshi to continue with the remainder of the series. It is also unique among the print of the series that the scene is static and the main Character, Goyo is standing quite still.
The series “108 Heroes of the Suikoden” was a Chinese story from the N. Song Dynasty, 960-1125 AD, of a band of thieves and robbers who mostly lived by a moral and ethical code. They joined the band as they rejected, or often were rejected by society. They fought with a moral code that robbed from the rich, and the government and gave to the poor. An early Chinese version of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. It was a story that interested the Japanese and reflected the changes in Japanese society in the early 19th Century. Also, this series of colorful, single sheet prints followed a recently published book of the “Heroes” by a popular author, Bakin and illustrated, in black and white, by a very popular artist, Hokusai.
Goyo, which was one of the first five of the series is unique among the series but worthy of discussion because the action does not distract from the artistry.
Kuniyoshi is challenging our eyes and our brains. He pushes us to the limits of the page and creates the sense that there is something going on beyond the single sheet.
Goyo seems unconcerned with us, the viewer, and facing with his eyes intent to his right he is indicating that there is something more important outside our view. Everything is pushed against the edge of the print. The seven stars, most likely intended to represent the big dipper, are pressing at the upper edge of the page but as we know, they help us point further north to the North Star, so we can imagine extension of the page. His celestial globe and quadrant indicating his serious and intellectual nature, he is the strategist of the band, but they also push the edge of the page, giving the sense that we are in a small part of Goyo’s world.
Goyo’s robe is a wonderful culmination of the artist, the woodblock cutter and the printer, so lush and luxurious. The details of the dragon are so well defined, and the folds of the robe over Goyo’s shoulders are so natural.
Note the individual hairs of his beard and his eyelashes.
Note the effect of the transparent hat, through which we can see his hair and bun.
Seals and Cartouches:
The cartouche on the upper right is the name of the series. To the left is the name of the image.
On the bottom far right hand side, the larger rectangle, is Kuniyoshi’s signature cartouche. Adjacent to this in the smaller rectangular is the publisher’s cartouche. The circular seal is the censor.
- Of Brigands and Bravery, I. Klompmakers, Hotei Publishing, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2003
- Kuniyoshi, From the Arthur R. Miller Collection, T. Clark, Royal Academy of Arts, 2009
- Kuniyoshi, The Warrior Prints, B. W. Robinson, Phaedon Press, 1982