warrior print (musha-e)
Brave heroes and warriors from the pages of history and mythology were the subject of many Japanese prints. After all, Japan had a warrior culture stretching back centuries. During the 19th century, portraits of warriors became a significant genre in printmaking.
Perhaps surprisingly, these Japanese warrior prints are not often found in Western collections of the time. The export market for Japanese prints primarily catered to safer subjects such as beautiful women and landscapes.
Kuniyoshi was the first prominent artist to specialise in depicting warriors. He paid great attention to the facial expressions and poses adopted by his figures, offering almost caricatural depictions of the excitement and suspense of the warrior stories.
The publisher sometimes included a short narrative poem with the print, to help explain exactly which scene was being depicted.
The prints of warriors were sometimes rather gory and violent. Vincent van Gogh only had a limited number of prints of warriors in his collection; perhaps the gruesome scenes clashed with his idealised image of Japan as a peaceful country.