Kunisada, The Storehouse of Loyal Retainers Act XI - The Night Attack

Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Act XI of The Storehouse of Loyal Retainers: The Night Attack (Chushingura juichi danme, youchi no zu) Early 1830’s. Oban triptych.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

Warrior prints, musha-e or historical subjects are pretty rare in the work of Kunisada, hence this exceptional Chushingura triptych is quite a surprise. It’s beautiful, amazingly fresh and quite a find. The originator of this scene is usually credited to Kuniyoshi  and there are scenes similar to this by him from the late 1830’s. There is work to be done on Kunisada’s legacy of musha-e. He contributed greatly to both the single sheet and multi-sheet warrior genres without receiving much credit for his work.

The print illustrates Act XI of the Chushingura (The Story of the Faithful Samurai) - the 47 Ronin who revenged themselves on their master’s proxy assassin. In 1702 Lord Asano of Ako was provoked by Kira Kozukensuke into drawing his sword in the shogun's palace, for which he was forced to take his own life. Forty seven of his retainers became Ronin - samurai without masters. They vowed revenge on their leader and attacked Kira's palace the following year, decapitating him and carrying his head to lay on Asano's grave. They in turn took their own lives. Because of censorship laws prevailing at the time, direct reference to the action was forbidden and hence whilst this is not a theatre piece at all, it goes by that name; The Chushingura being the name of the plays and literature surrounding the historical event.

Identical to the Kuniyoshi of 1853, Kunisada pictures Kira Kozukensuke cowering beneath his house in the right hand sheet. Elsewhere, the print is littered with the distinctive black and white chevron designs of the individual Ronin - each engaged in hand to hand combat with the compound retainers. The moon is heavy in the sky, the ground covered with snow, so much like a Breugel painting of a winter landscape. It’s a great piece of work, colour and impression are fine and the condition overall is very fine and fresh, there is some wormage to the edges, but the this does not detract from the overall piece.

Signed Kochoro Kunisada ga. Published by Ezakiya Kichibei.

37cm x 76cm.