atmospheric winter scene from the Sino-Japanese War showing a scouting party near Niuzhuang. Snow falls heavily over the men, who ride silently through the woods wearing fur-lined coats with hoods wrapped about their heads. The figure at left disappears into the storm in silhouette, while the soldier at right keeps a careful watch behind him.
The work shows a group of three mounted scouts making their way through heavy snow near the Manchurian city of Newchang. After crossing the Yalu, the Japanese forces had advanced well into Manchuria, taking the city of Haicheng in mid-December, but were forced to postpone any further movement until winter began to loosen its grip in late February. These scouts are involved in preliminary reconnoitring for this new movement, near the city of Newchang, which fell to the Japanese on 5 March.
Whereas the previous scout looked out over a clear and uninterrupted landscape (Our Scout Reconnoiters the Enemy Camp Near the Yalu River), the scouts here are blinded by the snow, unable to make out much beyond the shapes of the trees nearby. This “closed” form of landscape is reflected also in a composition that allows considerable autonomy to each of the three separate panels of the triptych, a technique which Kiyochika used earlier in some of his historical triptychs of the 1880’s. Each of the three figures here is shown in his space, with his own posture and his own relationship to the surrounding trees. Yet all come together as one in a remarkable scene of men against the Manchurian winter. It was in prints like this, where the enemy was nature rather than man, that Kiyochika was at his best as a war artist.
A beautiful triptych with soft bokashi shading.
Bokashi: is Japanese for “shading off” or “gradation” and may refer to a printing technique or blurring an image as a form of censorship.
Collections: Arthur M Sackler Museum.
Harvard Art Museum Collection.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art Collection.
References: Illustrated in the Shinbaku Books 2014 publication “Massacres in Manchuria: Sino Japanese War Prints 1894-1895”, edited by Jack Hunter, page 116.
Illustrated in the 1988 Santa Barbara Museum of Art publication “KIYOCHIKA Artist of Meiji Japan” by Henry D. Smith II, Catalogue number 98. p.89.