An officer on horseback surveys the fighting below from atop a hill next to a tree. He grips his sword in one hand as he watches the Chinese fleeing as the Japanese rush forward during the attack. A beautifully rendered design with the officer and his men depicted in rich colour, while the fighting in the distance on either side of the hill appears in soft misty tones, obscured by smoke.
Like most of Gekkō’s triptychs, the predominance of impressionistic atmosphere, the dreaming quality of a Autumn day, the slight haze swallowing the soldiers marching and hardly visible; the powerful attitude of the officer and his mount, the standard-bearer close by his side, creates a mood of supreme strength and certitude about the outcome of the battle. There can be no doubt whatsoever about victory. Gekkō, in his total independence from any influence, his autodidactic genius, places him amongst the greatest of all the masters of the woodcut. (Nathan Chaikin).
After Newchang and Yingkou were taken by the Japanese First Army, Mukden was a planned target. Before an advance on Mukden could be mobilized, however, peace negotiations were initiated. The Japanese diverted their attention southward in order to strengthen their bargaining position in the upcoming negotiations. They never actually approached Mukden. The artist created this print using his imagination to construct this scene in anticipation of an event that never did transpire.
In November 1894, General Tatsumi sent some of his troops toward Mukden. They did not actually approach the city and Mukden was not taken. This undated print is an example of a print made before the event, in anticipation of victory.
Gekko’s war prints are among the most successful as works of art. This composition is unified by both colour and design. The soft atmosphereic quality created by printing grey and white over colour, to suggest painterly washes, obscures the raging battle and focuses attention on the flag and the soldiers-symbols of the Japanese nation.
Collections: Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
Basil Hall Chamberlain Collection.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art.
References: Illustrated in the Shinbaku Books 2014 publication “Massacres in Manchuria: Sino Japanese War Prints 1894-1895. Ukiyo-e Master Series: Volume Thirteen”, edited by Jack Hunter, page 76.
Illustrated in the 1983 publication “The Sino-Japanese War by Nathan Chaikïn”, catalogue No: 67, page 177.
Illustrated in the 1983 catalogue “Impressions of the Front by Shumpei Okamoto”, p.32. Catalogue Number 45.
Illustrated in the 1991 Worcester Art Museum publication “In Battles Light”, Catalogue number 9. p.35.
Illustrated in the 2008 paper, Throwing Off Asia II: woodblock prints of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) by John W. Dower – Chapter One, “Prints & Propaganda”.p.1-9.
Illustrated in the 2014 paper, Ogata Gekko: War Triptychs. p.1. Triptych 1.