Sino-Japanese War 1894-95: The Phyongyang Campaign
 
 
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Dramatic image of a lone Japanese soldier atop Hyonmu Gate during the Sino Japanese War, a fallen enemy at his feet. He looks over his shoulder out at the valley below, where explosions from guns glitter like white stars in the dark foliage. Red flames billow upwards from a distant fire, and clouds drift cross the night sky, with a full moon glowing softly at upper right. A terrific, atmospheric design with beautiful handling of the effects of light and fine bokashi shading.

The Japanese were pinned down by the Chinese defence of the Hyonmu Gate in the assault on Pyöngyang. Harada Jūkichi volunteered to join a group of soldiers to storm the gate, and when they failed at this, he scaled the walls. His act of daring caught the imagination of the Japanese people and inspired a Kabuki play. This scene of the moment after the daring exploit is from the play Kairiku renshō asahi no mihata (act iv), performed on 28 October 1894, at the Kabuki-za in Tokyo, where Harada’s father was an actor.

The narrative takes a secondary role here to the landscape. Kiyochika’s interest in atmosphere and light are evident in the washes of red that enliven the landscape with the light of campfires and artillery bombardment. The unknown printer should also be recognised for his achievement in transforming Kiyochika’s design into a printed picture and for using his skill in incorporating the grain of the woodblock into the design, giving texture to the mountains.From an excerpt by Elizabeth de Sabato Swinton catalogue essay, in the 1991 Worcester Art Museum publication “In Battles Light”, Catalogue number 13, p.40.

A similar somber atmosphere permeates Kiychika’s rendering of “Harada Jūkichi” scaling the Hyonmu Gate in Pyongyang (the subject of one of Toshikata prints). Here the moon looks down on the hero standing high on a rampart. At his feet lies a slain foe who is not merely garbed in an old-fashioned tunic, but also barefoot – as strong (and subtle) a statement of backwardness as one can imagine. As fire rises in the distance behind him, Harada gazes over a vast and almost empty vista, prickled with tiny starbursts of light, which occupies half the print. He might almost be looking to the future.Extract from the 1983 publication “The Sino-Japanese War by Nathan Chaikïn”, catalogue number 39. p.147.

Collections: British Library.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
Leserman-Adler Collection.
Basil Hall Chamberlain Collection.
The Worcester Art Museum.

References: Illustrated in the 1983 publication “The Sino-Japanese War by Nathan Chaikïn”, catalogue number 39. p.147.
Illustrated in the 1991 Worcester Art Museum publication “In Battles Light”, Catalogue number 13, p.40.

             

 
     
 
 
 
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