Kokunimasa

Utagawa Kokunimasa

1874-1944

Great Victory of the Imperial Navy in the Russo-Japanese Naval Battle at Port Arthur - Hurrah!
(Nichiro Ryojun-ko kaisen teikoku kaigun dai shori, banzai)

signed Kokunimasa with artist's flower seal, carver's seal of Watanabe Takisaburo (Eizo III), published by Fukuda Kumajiro in February 1904

oban tate-e hexaptych 13 3/4 by 54 7/8 in., 35 by 139.3 cm

This print depicts the events related to the outbreak of war with Russia on February 8, 1904, which began with a surprise attack by a Japanese torpedo boat destroyer on Russian ships at Port Arthur which resulted in heavy damages to Russia's two largest battleships, the Tsesarevich and Retvizan, and a cruiser Pallada. The title cartouche on the far right sheet celebrates: Great Victory of the Imperial Navy in the Russo-Japanese Naval Battle at Port Arthur - Hurrah! (Banzai!). The white horizontal cartouche on the next sheet over lists the Japanese Imperial Fleet (Teikoku kantai), and the other white cartouche three more sheets to the left lists the Russian Fleet (Rokoku kantai). The Russian Fleet is separated into two categories from right to left starting with 7 battleships (sentokan), 5 armored cruisers (soko jun'yokan), 10 cruisers (jun'yokan) and then the 3 that were overtaken or sunk (hakai chinbotsu su).

One of the challenges of designing woodblock prints as reportage of wartime events is conveying a sense of excitement from naval battles when engagements take place over great distances, rather than the close quarters of hand-to-hand combat on a battlefield (particularly that of sword-wielding warriors of traditional Japan). Kokunimasa was one of the few artists that were able to produce dynamic and coherent compositions of battles from both the First Sino Japanese War and for the Russo-Japanese War, which also represented a considerable investment on behalf of the publisher. Even more impressive is that the artist and publisher were able to design and produce this grand panoramic work and have it approved for publication within the same month as the opening salvos at the Battle of Port Arthur on February 8th.

References:
Bradley M. Bailey, Flash of Light, Fog of War: Japanese Military Prints, 1894-1905, Ackland Art Museum, 2017, pp. 100-101, no. 43, object no. 2016.42.1a-f
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession no. 2000.380.10a-f (for a similar six-panel composition published by Fukuda Kumajiro in 1894)
New York Public Library, object no. 108453.a-f
(inv. no. C-3030)

price: $2,400

kikumon

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