Kiyochika: Upside-Down Reflections of War--Picture of Our Elite Forces Capturing the Pescadores Islands, Taiwan

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Artist: Kobayashi Kiyochika
Title: Picture of Our Elite Forces Capturing the Pescadores Islands, Taiwan
Date: 1894

Triptych of a dramatic night battle where humans are reduced to silhouettes, and in this case it is the reflections on water of the silhouettes that create the drama of the scene. We see Chinese soldiers running as they take fire; they may be identified by their long single braids.  To the right we see Japanese forces aiming weapons and charging forward. The shadows and reflections make this work very visually interesting, although the subject matter is very dark indeed. The MIT essay on Kiyochika prints from the Sino-Japanese war notes that works like this one covey a cartoon quality that foreshadows the manga that exploded in Japanese culture in the 20th century. “Enemy figures become flattened into cartoonish black silhouettes, and picked off by Japanese riflemen as if they ware targets in a shooting gallery”. In this example the year has been crossed out in the date in the margin (now reading Meiji 20X). Rhiannan Page (Hu et all 2016) points out that the 1894 date in the left margin predates the occupation fo the Pescadores in 1895, and that this may actually be a scene from Fenghuangcheng that was repurposed by the publisher. 

As these prints were a form of wartime propaganda, it is important to note that the actual battle may have looked nothing like this. As noted in “Japan at the Dawn of the Modern Age” (page 68): “...artists were often pressed to produce designs in anticipation of battles--to the point of even portraying engagements that in fact never occurred. In general, the aim was to have the prints ready for sale just before or at least at the very moment the next expected victory or notable event was announced.”

Condition: Excellent impression, color and condition. Large margins; unbacked. Some tiny nibbles at upper right margin of rightmost sheet.
Dimensions: ôban triptych (37.2 x 75.6 cm)
Publisher: Matsuki Heikichi
Literature: See MFA and Vizualizing cultures MIT online. See Harvard and FAMSF museum collections.Hu et al, Conflicts of Interest (St. Louis exh. cat., 2016), #57; Virgin et al., Japan at the Dawn of the Modern Age (MFA, 2001), #58, photo p. 107; Swinton, In Battle's Light (Worcester, 1991), #25 
Signature: Kiyochika