Yoshitoshi, Fallen Blossoms in the Snow - The Assassination of Ii Naosuke

Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Fallen Blossoms in the Snow - The Assassination of Ii Naosuke, 1874. Oban triptych.

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What an interesting contrast this print is to its predecessor.  Ii Naosuke (1815 - 1860) was the chief negotiator for the various treaties that ended the isolation of Japan and ushered in (via violent and bloody unrest) the modern era in Japan. His reforms, against the backdrop of the crumbling shogunate were fiercely opposed by the traditional cast of Samurai and Daimyo. As a consequence a rebellion of seventeen Ronin (leaderless Samurai) issued a statement of intent and assassinated Ii outside Edo Castle. It can be argued that the incident caused the collapse of the Tokugawa regime and the establishment of the Meiji Empire in 1868.

Here we see the same subject - The Assassination of Ii Naosuke - handled in a completely different manner, only one year later. This image is quite famous - unlike the 1873 version. In this fine version of the assassination we see Yoshitoshi in more comfortable territory - the foreground violence of the image, the focus on physiognomy, the original and dramatic poses and individual, observed characterisation. Here, it is more difficult to assert what Yoshitoshi’s political affiliations are. The central character of Ii Naosuke is foregrounded in the centre sheet, he is fighting - bravely one might say, although there is a distinct ugliness in his face and gesture - this is no heroic portrait. In his right hand he raises aloft a scroll of paper - almost certainly an allusion to the Harris treaty of 1858. All around, the seventeen rebellious Ronin are fighting his entourage against a background of the snow covered Edo castle. It is a fine composition; the imposing edifice closes off the far distance and the snow, which covers everything, creates a curious effect of white canvas, giving the print a vital, unfinished quality, offsetting the bright colours of the clothes and animating the violent struggles. Yoshitoshi settled on a V shaped composition for the figures, forcing attention to the final struggle of the group in the foreground, centre sheet. The title gives nothing away - what are we to make of the phrase Fallen Blossoms in the Snow? There is an allusion here to poetry and a sense of tragedy; equating Ii and his entourage to the transience of blossom, that most affective of Japanese symbols… none of the assassins died in the attack, their leader committed suicide but shockingly, the other conspirators were pardoned.

This fine print is in good condition, there is some aging to the margins which are in the main intact. The impression and the colour are fine.

Signed Oju Taiso Yoshitoshi. Published by Rokka-en.

76cm x 38cm.