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Kuniyoshi (1797 - 1861)

Last Stand of Kusunoki Clan at Shijo-Nawate

Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: 1857
Size (H x W): 14.25 x 29.25 (inches)
Publisher: Aito
Seals: Date and Aratame
Signature: Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga
Condition: Very good color and impression, good state, woodgrain visible, mica



Released in 1857, this triptych returns to the demise of the Kusunoki clan at Shijo Nawate. Presenting this 1348 battle from the epic Taiheiki, this print shows the warriors of the Southern Court just before their gruesome defeat by their Northern enemy. While the rain of arrows remains as incessant as that found in Kuniyoshi’s c.1850 rendition of the incident, the Kusunoki clan retain more vigor in this later triptych. Arrows lodge in the bodies of the warriors and their tattered banners, but their faces retain their fierceness. Bloodstains on their armor, using a lifeless body for protection, the vitality of their postures suggests that not all is lost - yet. 

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.