The Edo/Tokyo artist Toyohara Chikanobu (豊原周延 1838–1912; also Yôshû Chikanobu 楊洲周延 and real name Hashimoto Naoyoshi 橋本直義) was a retainer of the Sakakibara clan of Takada Domain in Echigo Province. As a Tokugawa loyalist, he fought (contemporary accounts indicate he conducted himself bravely and honorably) for the shogunate as a member of an elite force called the Shôgitai (彰義隊, Battalion to Demonstrate Righteousness) in the Battle of Ueno (Ueno Sensô: 上野戦争) on July 4, 1868 and in the Battle of Hakodate (Hakodate Sensô: 函館戦争) between from December 4, 1868 to June 27, 1869. The latter was the last stage in the armed rebellion called the Boshin War (Boshin Sensô: 戊辰戦争) between shogunate and imperial armies. Following the Shôgitai's surrender, he was remanded along with others to the authorities in the Takada domain. In 1875, he traveled to Tokyo and found work as an illustrator for the Kaishin Shinbun (Progressive Newspaper 改進新聞). At the same time, he produced woodblock prints in the late ukiyo-e style. Although he had some training in Kanô-school painting, Chikanobu preferred ukiyo-e and began his studies with a disciple of Keisai Eisen (渓斎英泉 1790-1848). He then joined the studio of Ichiyûsai Kuniyoshi (歌川國芳 1798-1861) around 1852, using the name Yoshitsuru. After Kuniyoshi's death, he studied with Utagawa Kunisada (歌川國貞 1786-1865), sometimes signing as Yôshû, and finally with Toyohara Kunichika (豊原國周 1835-1900), calling himself Isshunsai Chikanobu. Once established, he created print designs with many themes, foremost among them bijinga (美人画 pictures of beautiful women) and sensô-e (戦争絵 pictures of war or warrior prints), includiing many triptychs depicting events from the aforementioned Boshin War as well as the Satsuma Rebellion (Seinan Sensô: 西南戦争) in 1877. Other subjects included historical scenes, kabuki, famous places (meisho 名所絵), portrayals of the emperor, and pasttimes of women. As a late master of bijin-ga, he produced numerous images and series of beauties in single sheets, diptych, and triptychs.
The subject of Chikanobu's print links the woman with Saigô Takamori (西郷隆盛 1828-77). For more about this important historical figure, see Yoshimine print (YMN02).
The woman portrayed in Chikanobu's print is likely one of his two closest mistresses — Otora from Naraya in the Gion, or Osue, also from the Gion entertainment district in Kyoto. She is shown in a pose suggesting worry and sadness over the imminent battle that, she must realize, will probably end in her lover's death. As such, this is a most unusual (and lyrical) portrayal for what is essentially a war print.
Both the evocative print title (with the word bansho or evening bell: 離別) and the series title (with the word hakkei or eight views: 八景) establish an association with the classical subject Evening bell at Mii Temple (Mii-dera bansho: 三井晩鐘), one of the scenes from Omi hakkei (Eight Views of Omi: 近江八景) in Japan (Ch; Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers [Xiaoxiang]: 潇湘八景). This was a popular theme for serialized ukiyo-e (landscapes, portraits of courtesans, actors, etc.) and was often used in connection with mitate-e (analog or metaphorical, often playful comparison pictures: 見立絵). Thus, this sensô-e resonates beyond the tale of Saigô Takamori through an allusion to the Eight Views of Omi.
The banner visible at the lower left refers to Saigô's crusade and its rallying cry, Shinsei kôtoku (New government [rule] by the deeply virtuous: 新政厚德).
References: Bruce Coats, Chikanobu: Modernity and nostalgia in Japanese Prints. Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2006.