Dramatic depiction from the Sino-Japanese War of Japan’s Second Army attacking Port Arthur. Troops are arranged along the shore, firing shots across the water, with puffs of white smoke issuing from their guns. The enemy is seen in silhouette along the horizon as the sun sets, victims falling backwards as they are struck while others appear to flee. Orange smoke and flames billow from an explosion at left and dark clouds add an ominous feeling to the sky.
Japanese troops finally captured Port Arthur on 21 November, 1894, only after the Chinese fled the previous night just as the sun was setting. According to the diary of one Japanese enlisted man, the Imperial Army dogged the retreating Chinese from three sides as they made their escape under the cover of night.
The night escape provided Kiyochika his favourite subject – light. One sees here Kiyochika’s debt to the prints of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) for the angular prominent cloud forms, the silhouetted figures and trees, and the reflections in the water to suggest night and shadow. The Extensive use of overprinting – white on white, black on the blue sky – and burnishing are also part of the earliest nineteenth-century woodblock tradition. Only the awkwardly foreshortened Japanese soldiers in the foreground reflect the late nineteenth century’s fascination with Western Art.
An intriguing and unusual depiction, nicely detailed with touches of burnishing in the uniforms and fine bokashi shading.
The inspiration for this print came from reports of the details of the Japanese capture of Port Arthur on November 21, 1894. It was late in the day, just as the sun was setting, that Japanese troops finally took the last fortifications of the city, only to discover that the Chinese had already fled.
The Japanese occupy the foreground, most with their backs turned; we see only the profile of the commander and the eye of a single soldier taking aim. The postures are stiff, and those standing have their feet spread in a solid stance. As figures, they seem unnatural, but this is precisely the point.
Along a crest beyond an open range of water are silhouetted the figures of the fleeing Chinese enemy, like targets in a shooting gallery. They are small, devoid of all but outline detail, which is enough to provide the telltale pigtails and the rounded caps that identify them as Chinese. Whereas the Japanese are firmly planted and immobile, the Chinese are off-balance, running in all directions.
Collections: The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
The Worcester Art Museum.
References: Illustrated in the 1991 Worcester Art Museum Catalogue “In Battles Light”, Catalogue number 17.
Illustrated in the 2001 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts publication “Japan at the Dawn of the Modern Age”, Catalogue number 43, p.91.
Illustrated in the 2008 paper Throwing Off Asia II: woodblock prints of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-
95) by John W. Dower – Chapter Two, “Kiyochika’s War”.pp.2-2 and 2-17.
Illustrated in the 1988 Santa Barbara Museum of Art publication “KIYOCHIKA Artist of Meiji Japan” by Henry D. Smith II, Catalogue number 96. p.87.
Illustrated in the Shinbaku Books 2014 publication “Massacres in Manchuria: Sino Japanese War
Prints 1894-1895”, edited by Jack Hunter, page 91.
Illustrated in the 1977 Kodansha publication, First Sino-Japanese War Nishikie Chronicle (Ukiyo-e,