Soryu, also known as Soritsu, is a Kyoto artist who studied Nanga and Buddhist painting as a child. He went to Yokohama to study Western art under the British cartoonist Charles Wirgman (1832-1891), who made his reputation with the magazine Japan Punch. Wirgman began his career as an officer in the British army. A self-taught artist, he came out to China in 1860 as an illustrator for the Illustrated London News and moved on to Japan with Alcock's party the next year as correspondent for that paper. He married a Japanese woman and spent the rest of his life in Yokohama. As a painter, Wirgman excited some interest among fledgling Western-style Japanese artists, and several, including Soryu and Takahashi Yuichi, traveled to Yokohama to study with him.
Soryu taught Western-style oil painting at the Kyoto Prefecture Painting School (Kyoto-fu Gagakko), established in 1880 as an effort to modernize the art establishment, but he continued to paint in the Nihonga style, albeit with strong Western influence. The monumental painting shown here must have been intended for exhibition. The artist combines Nihonga and Yoga in this single work; the painting is on silk, the surrounding frame is oil on wood. For an example of a hanging scroll in color on silk in Nihonga style see Ellen P. Conant, Nihonga (Saint Louis: Saint Louis Art Museum, 1995), fig. 2.3 on p. 20. Soryu also made woodblock prints.
In an era when nationalism and modernization went hand in hand, history paintings such as this one extolling the exploits of Japanese heroes were immensely popular. In the late 13th century the Mongols under Khublai Khan twice attempted to invade Japan. They were defeated each time by a fortuitous typhoon that destroyed most of the fleet and forced them to withdraw. To the Japanese this "divine wind" (kamikaze) was confirmation that their land was protected by the gods.