Utagawa Kuniyoshi
The Scene of the Night Attack from Act 11 of the Play Chūshingura
c. 1835

From an untitled series of landscapes; Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga; ōban, yoko-e, 26.0 x 37.0 cm; nishiki-e with fukibokashi

The snowy landscape is depicted in perspective in a European manner. In the background, on the right, is the residence of Kō no Moronao, where the 47 rōnin have come to take revenge. Some of them are climbing over the wall on rope ladders, others are holding lanterns, while another is feeding the dogs to keep them from barking. Kuniyoshi’s depiction, which seems truly surrealistic, is only loosely connected with the puppet theatre play based on this memorable historical event of 1703.

Merlin Dailey, Victor, N.Y.; R. E. Lewis, San Francisco (June 1970)
Riese Collection #106

This extraordinary print, with its western-style shading and perspective, and its beautiful transparent effect of moonlight reflecting on snow, is justly considered to be one of Kuniyoshi’s masterpieces and has been eulogised by Robinson (Kuniyoshi, p. 10), Michener (The Floating World, pl. 63), and Yoshida (Ukiyo-e Jiten, Vol. 2, p. 187). The scene is the night attack of the 47 rônin on the Edo mansion of their sworn enemy Kō no Moronao. As one group of samurai scale the walls, Yūranosuke, their leader, motions toward the left where another member of the company is throwing food upon the ground to silence the neighbourhood dogs. A warrior at the right shines his lantern on the wall, and the light glows a faint rosy pink as it rises trough the wintry air. Michener is undoubtedly right in identifying the cone at the centre of the picture as Mt. Fuji. It only remains for the composition with its clear, unrelenting geometry to be compared with some work of the Italian renaissance, by Uccello perhaps, or Piero Della Francesca.

Sometime in the early 1830s, the publisher Yamaguchi Tōbei persuaded Kuniyoshi to design a series of landscapes. Five of their titles, among them Miyatogawa, Mitsumata, Onmayagashi, Shubi no Mats were prefaced with the words Tōto, or Eastern Capital. Three other prints in the same format, with the same double-outlined titled cartouche with a smaller cartouche set alongside it for the artist’s signature were also published around this time. The Night Attack never seems to bear a publisher’s mark, but another westernising print, a portrait of the strong woman Okane and a rearing horse against a turbulent sky often bears the mark of Kinkōdō in the lower left-hand corner, the shop name of Yamaguchi Tōbei. These two prints and another of Mt. Asama probably continued the series.

Reproduced in: Riese, Asiatische Studien, 1972, p. 110, no. 32.

Other impressions are reproduced in the Tōkyō National Museum catalogue, n. 3035, and in Vignier and Inada, Toyokuni, Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi, no. 146, pl. XLIII. The Vignier and Inada impression, from Vignier’s own collection, seems to lack the blue block in the sky, which makes the moon in the Riese impression less round at the top and slightly smaller.