Kuniyoshi: Rain of Arrows; Fight to the Death of the Heroic Samurai of the Kusunoki Clan at Shijo-Nawate (Sold)

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Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861)
Title: Fight to the Death of the Heroic Samurai of the Kusunoki Clan at Shijo-Nawate 楠家勇士四條縄手にて討死
Date: 1851-52

The last stand of the Kusunoki Clan at Shijo-nawate in 1348. Nanke yushi Shijo-nawate nite uchijini. Three warriors keep fighting against impossible odds and a hail of arrows. Wada Shinboshi (Genshu) leads the counterattack at right. He brandishes two severed heads to shield his own face against the incoming onslaught of arrows, still moving forward, his weapon in his right hand. In the middle sheet is Masatomo, who holds a lowered battle standard as another improvised shield. To the left is Kusunoki Matsutsura, who crouches between a fallen horse and some planks of wood that he has used as cover, hoisting in front of him the body of an expired samurai as a shield. In order to focus on the three figures, Kuniyoshi has chosen a deep grey background that serves as contrast to the white arrows and the vibrant samurai, only showing hints of the raging battle in the background. As all three men are famously doomed, they all have the blue pallor of warriors who are about to expire. Blood flows from many wounds on each of them. According to the Taiheiki, Masatsura led 3,000 men into battle against 6,000 enemy troops led by Moronao. Timothy Clark notes that this work was meant to stand alone, although six years later a different publisher seemed to request Kuniyoshi that he design a second triptych to “match” this one to create a hexaptych.

Condition: Excellent impression, color and condition. Untrimmed and unbacked. 
Dimensions: ôban triptych each sheet approx 37.9 x 26 cm
Publisher: Fujioka-ya Keijiro
Literature: See Timothy Clark’s “Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection”, no. 32, page 93. Robinson T271. Riccar 1978, no. 106; Springfield 1980, no. 179; V&A 1991, no. 92. See British Museum, RISD.
Signature: Ichiyûsai Kuniyoshi ga