Hokusai Katsushika, Kanadehon Chushingura, Act VI, Fourty-seven Ronin

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Artist: Hokusai Katsushika (1760-1849)
Title: Act VI
Series: The Storehouse of Loyal Retainers (Kanadehon Chushingura)
Date: c. 1805
Size: 25.6 x 36.8 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

 

Kanadehon Chushingura, the story of fourty seven retainers, is one of the greatest tales about loyalty and revenge in Japanese history. It is closely based on a historical event from the eighteenth century.
While preparing for the visit of the Emperor's ambassador in Edo Castle, one of the noblemen, Lord Asano of Ako, provoked by the countless insults, drew his sword on the other lord wounding him considerably. However, as drawing a weapon in the palace was strictly prohibited, Lord Asano was sentenced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment). His property was confiscated and his samurai dismissed, making them rōnin, or masterless warriors. Thereafter, the rōnin avenged their master by killing the enemy and putting his head on the grave of Lord Asano. The story ends with the honourable death by seppuku of the faithful samurai.

 

In act VI, the murder of Okaru's father is discovered and her lover Kanpei, who previously went boar hunting, believes he is responsible for the unfortunate death. In humiliation and shame, Kanpei decides there is nothing else left but to commit seppuku (an honourable suicide). However, as the fellow ronin arrive and inspect the body carefully, they reveal the truth before Kanpei draws his last breath - Okaru's father had died of a sword wound, not a gun. In fact, Kanpei killed the robber who murdered the old man. He is permitted to add his name to the vendetta list and dies in high spirits.

 

The image depicts moribund Kanpei, signing the secret list of ronin members. Behind him, Okaru silently weeps into her sleeve, mourning the unavoidable loss of her beloved one. On the left, the peaceful rural landscape contrasts with the emotional act of Kanpei's dying sincerity.

Hokusai Katsushika (1760 - 1849)


Hokusai Katsushika is considered to be one of the greatest artists within Japan as well as the entire art community worldwide. While prints of beautiful women (bijinga) and prints of actors (yakusha-e) were popular in the ukiyo-e during that time, Hokusai distinguished himself in a new field in ukiyo-e, landscapes. Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), he initially trained as an engraver. At the age of 18 he became a student of Katsukawa Shunsho (1726-1792) producing kabuki actors prints.

Hokusai devoted almost all of his 90 years of life to drawing and painting. Never satisfied with one technique or mastering one style of drawing, he always sought to improve as an artist. In the mid-1810s, the first volume of ‘Hokusai’s Manga’ was published. This series of sketchbooks consists of 15 volumes in total, covering a wide variety of subjects and is often referred to as a series of instructional drawing manuals intended to serve as a kind of textbooks for those who wanted to become artists.

In the early 1820s, Hokusai started working on the series ‘Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji’, which was finally published in 1830. It is certainly his most famous body of work and is often considered his best. The series actually consists of 46 images, with designs such as ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’, ‘Fine Wind, Clear Weather’, and ‘Rain Storm Beneath the Summit’, known worldwide. His other famous series ‘A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces’ also appeared around this time period. In the mid-1830s, his illustrated book ‘One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji’ was published. Filled with depictions of the mountain in often dynamic compositions, this book, alongside ‘Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji’, established Hokusai as the ‘Mt. Fuji artist’.

His last major print series, 'One Hundred Poems Narrated by the Nurse', was published between 1835 and 1838. After that, the artist focused on Japanese traditional paintings until his death.

Hokusai used over 50 names to sign his works and had achievements in various fields as an artist. His influences stretched across the globe to his western contemporaries in nineteenth-century Europe with Japonism, which started with a craze for collecting Japanese art, particularly ukiyo-e. He influenced the Impressionism movement, with themes echoing his work appearing in the work of Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as well as the Art Nouveau style.

More Information
Print FormatOban (Horizontal)
ArtistHokusai Katsushika (1760 - 1849)
SubjectSamurai & Male, Male & Female, Landscapes
Size25.6 x 36.8 cm
Condition ReportSlightly trimmed, a pinhole on the top, minor stains and creases, some worn-out areas, paper residue on the back due from previous mounting.