• Home
  • -
  • Complete Album: Biographies of the Loyal Retainers


Kuniyoshi (1797 - 1861)

Complete Album: Biographies of the Loyal Retainers

Series: Biographies of the Loyal Retainers
Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: c. 1847
Size (H x W): 14.25 x 10.5 (inches)
Publisher: Ebiya Rinnosuke (Kaijudo)
Seals: Hama and Kinugasa, Yoshimura and Muramatsu, Mera and Murata (censor seals)
Signature: Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga
Condition: Side-bound album of complete series with map of the gravesite at Sengaku-ji Temple and Toyokuni III triptych in front. Very good color, good impression, wear, soiling, some staining and holes.



During the 19th century, the tale of the 47 loyal retainers provided irresistible inspiration for artists. Kuniyoshi, master of the legendary and historical, seized this theme in his dynamic series Biographies of the Loyal Retainers (c. 1847).

This side-bound album contains a complete set of Kuniyoshi's iconic series Biographies of the Loyal Retainers. In addition, two additional prints are included in the album. First, a triptych by Toyokuni III (1786-1864) titled Departure of the Loyal Retainers, dated to c.1847-1849, that depicts the Ronin before the attack. The triptych is signed "oju kochoro Toyokuni ga" on the right sheet and "Toyokuni ga" on the center sheet, and is marked with the Mera and Murata nanushi censor seals. On the reverse of the triptych is a map of the gravesite at Sengaku-ji Temple.

About the artist

The son of silk dyer, Kuniyoshi Utagawa was born into the Igusa family in Edo. Little is known about his very early years, though he is said to have shown remarkable talent from a young age. Kuniyoshi began his ukiyo-e career as a pupil of Shunei. At age 14 he was accepted to study the art of woodblock printing under Toyokuni I and, in time, would become one of his most successful students. In 1814, he left Toyokuni’s studio to pursue a career as an independent ukiyo-e artist. Initially, he had little success, selling tatami mats in order to support himself. However, his fortunes changed in 1827 with his dramatic series 108 Heroes of the Suikoden. From that point forward, the public hungered for his portrayals of famous samurai and legendary heroes. Kuniyoshi Utagawa worked across all genres, producing some brilliant landscapes and charming bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women). He died in the spring of 1861 from complications of a stroke.

In direct contrast to the peaceful views of a scenic Japan provided by Hiroshige and Hokusai, the following decades saw a rise of the fierce, fearsome and fantastical in ukiyo-e. Kuniyoshi welcomed this changing public taste. He had a ravenous imagination and the full scope of his work reveals an aesthetic sensibility capable of capturing almost any experience. No doubt, however, his particular genius felt most at home in the world of martial glory, where epic battles decided the fate of empires and fierce warriors clashed to the death. Kuniyoshi's Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints were so popular in his time that he received requests for tattoo designs.