Kyosai Kawanabe, Faithful Samurai, Preparing for Battle


Artist: Kyosai Kawanabe (1831-1889)
Title: Oishi Seizaemon Nobukiyo and Terasaka Kichiemon Nobuyuki
Series: Genroku Yamato Nishiki
Publisher: Takekawa Seikichi
Date: 1885
Size: 25.9 x 37.4 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

A pupil of Utagawa Kuniyoshi and son of a samurai, Kyosai was a political satirist and famously described as “perhaps the last virtuoso in traditional Japanese painting”. Inspired by his teacher's great series of 1847, 'Stories of True Loyalty of the Faithful Samurai' Kyosai brings his own approach to the portrayal of individual warriors, at times in a violent, explicit or even gruesome way.


It is evident in his artworks that Kyosai did not shy away from dissident messages. The handling of this tale of those who defy the law in order to achieve revenge would not have been accepted by the recently fallen Tokugawa government. Under the Meiji restoration more liberties could be taken in regards to political commentaries and artistic content. Even so, Kyosai sometimes bushed the boundaries and was arrested by the new Meiji government for subversive cartoons.


This print shows the ronin Oishi Seizaemon Nobukiyo and Terasaka Kichiemon Nobuyuki standing in the snow and waiting for the attack on Lord Moronao's mansion. They are wearing dogtooth border robes, a design which has become iconic for all portrayals of the faithful samurai. Terasaka was the lowest-ranked of the group and the only one who did not commit suicide following their quest for revenge. Behind him, Seizaemon is adjusting his armoured sleves, focused on his actions and attack that is about to unravel.

Kyosai Kawanabe (1831 - 1889)

Kyosai was born in Shimosa province in a samurai family. He studied as a child under Kuniyoshi Utagawa, then later in the Kano school. Exhibited at the Vienna International Exposition in 2873 and in Paris in 1883. His distinguished painting, largely in the late-Kano manner, includes some excellent bird studies and is often marked by a wild, eccentric humour. He left many lively sketches of great dexterity of draughtsmanship. Also made prints, some of the most iconic ones being of ravens, in a bold, simple style, and caricatures full of fantasy and invention. His work mirrored his life in its wild and undisciplined nature, and occasionally reflected his love of drink. He compensated with a fantastic exuberance, which always lent interest to his technically excellent drawing skills.

More Information
Print FormatOban (Vertical)
ArtistKyosai Kawanabe (1831 - 1889)
SubjectSamurai & Male
Size25.9 x 37.4 cm
Condition ReportSlightly trimmed. Light creases and wear on the margins. Misprint on the grey area at the top.