A fantastic original multi-color woodblock print, a scene of tengu from Kyosai’s Comic Drawings “Ghosts & Oni Demons” Kyosai Gafu Sohen, Vol I, from 1860. Extremely rare, seldom seen, and much sought-after series of some of Kyosai’s most fantastic woodblocks.
The double page comes from Kawanabe Kyōsai’s volume entitled Kyōsai Gafu (狂 斎 画譜), the collection of 29 humorous images in which each image is accompanied by a kyōku (狂 句), a comic haiku. This was the work that started his career, but the streak of bizarre and humor that will characterize his entire production is already evident.
Tengu (“Heavenly Dog”) are a type of legendary creature found in Japanese folk religion. They are considered a type of yōkai (supernatural beings) or Shinto kami (gods). The tengu in art appears in a variety of shapes. It usually falls somewhere between a large, monstrous bird and a wholly anthropomorphized being, often with a red face or an unusually large or long nose. Early depictions of tengu show them as kite-like beings who can take a human-like form, often retaining avian wings, head or beak. The tengu‘s long nose seems to have been conceived in the 14th century, likely as a humanization of the original bird’s bill.
The Woodblock Print
This woodblock is comprised of conjoined pages from the album forming a chuban-sized block. Strong color in very good condition, with only minor wear. A few small pinholes throughout.
About the Artist
Living through the Edo period to the Meiji period (May 18, 1831 – April 26, 1889), Kyōsai Kawanabe (河鍋 暁斎) witnessed Japan transform itself from a feudal country into a modern state. The son of a samurai, his first aesthetic shock was at the age of nine when he picked up a decapitated human head in the Kanda river. After apprenticing with Utagawa Kuniyoshi, he received his artistic training in the Kanō school under Maemura Tōwa, who gave him the nickname “The Painting Demon”, but soon abandoned the formal traditions for the greater freedom of the popular school. Kyōsai attained a reputation as a caricaturist. His very long painting on makimono “The battle of the farts” may be seen as a caricature of this genre.
Kyōsai is considered by many to be the greatest successor of Hokusai (of whom, however, he was not a pupil), as well as the first political caricaturist of Japan. He created what is considered to be the first manga magazine in 1874: Eshinbun Nipponchi, with Kanagaki Robun.