five-panel print depicting the Japanese fleet bombarding the enemy fort at Dairen Bay during the Sino-Japanese War. At left, shells burst into balls of yellow and orange smoke, sending debris flying high into the air above the fortress. At right, smoke billows from the stack off the Japanese warship as it fires on the enemy, the tiny silhouettes of staff visible on the foredeck and Japanese flags fluttering at front and back. The turbulent sea is a mass of churning waves, with explosions sending up white spray from the water. The last rays of sunshine light up clouds drifting above the scene, the sky darkening as night falls. A bold design with terrific scale, nicely detailed with burnishing in the ship and the fine bokashi shading in the sky and sea.
Victory would give Japan control of the Yellow Sea for the remainder of the war. This dominance is symbolised by Kiyochika’s monumental work in which a lone Japanese warship, occupying fully three of the five sheets, shells the Chinese fortifications at Talien (Dairen or Dàlián in Japanese) on 6 November. The only rivals on the sea are two tiny sailing ships on the far horizon to the left. The giant ship is a pure war machine, its immensity and geometry accentuated by the two clusters of tiny human silhouettes on the forward deck. In the surrounding waters, great waves are churned into animated peaks, more powerful by far than the spiked explosions (one in the right foreground, two smaller to the far left) of the returning Chinese fire.
This particular design bears a revealing resemblance to an earlier triptych by Kiyochika of a steamship on the open seas near Mt. Fuji, entitled Mt. Fuji and Ship Crossing the Sea at Miho in Suruga Province (Sunchū Miho kōkaichū no Fuji) published by Matsuki in October 1878. The overall composition is remarkably similar, except that the ship itself is now more stiff and awkward, and the patterns of the waves more stylised. Such perhaps was the effect of the war: naturalistic realism gave way to stylised forms to suit the genre of military propaganda.
This particular print, with its five-sheet format, represents the only known case in which Kiyochika ever exceeded the triptych standard. The precedent was established by others, it would seem. A journal article of November 25, probably just about the time Kiyochika’s pentaptych was published, noted that as the production of war prints increased, so did the size, as evidenced by a six-sheet depiction of the Battle of the Yellow Sea (Sino-Japanese Naval Battles: Illustration of the Great Victory of the Imperial Navy at the Great Pitched Battle off Takushan, catalogue number 26) by Kokunimasa and a nine-sheet print by Toshihide of the Battle of Pyōngyang.
From an excerpt by Henry D. Smith II, Professor of history, University of California, in the Santa Barbara of Art Museum publication “KIYOCHIKA: Artist of Meiji Japan”, catalogue number 94. p.85.
The Japanese moved swiftly to attack the important seaport Dairen, as reported by Kubota Beisen: “Dairen Bay was surrounded by mountains except where the mouth led to open sea. In the attack both land and sea forces were deployed.
Our fleet approached the bay as planned at 6:00 AM on November 6. Its three divisions, the main force and two flying squadrons, consisted of sixteen warships. At 1:30 PM, the fleet moved to enter the bay… The fleet spotted mines and retreated back to open sea and anchored for the night.
At dawn the next day, three of our ships manoeuvred through the minefield and then bombarded and destroyed the east signal tower. Shelling what appeared to be enemy barracks, they encountered no retaliation. Since the bay was heavily fortified, second only to Weihaiwei and Port Arthur, a stiff resistance was awaited. It was truly surprising to face no defence.” From an excerpt by Kubota Beisen, Nisshin sento gaho (Tokyo), vol.6 (January 1895), pp.11-12., inthe 1983 catalogue Impressions from the Front by Shumpei Okamoto”, catalogue no: 53, page 35.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
References: Illustrated in the 1988 Santa Barbara Museum of Art publication “KIYOCHIKA Artist of Meiji Japan” by Henry D. Smith II, Catalogue number 94. p.85.
Illustrated in the 1983 catalogue “Impressions of the Front by Shumpei Okamoto”, p.35. Catalogue Number 53.