Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1839-1892
Snow of Falling Blossoms by Edo's Water
(Kosui, sanka no yuki)
signed oju Taiso Yoshitoshi, with publisher's seal Rokkaen kura ban, ca. 1874
oban tate-e triptych 14 5/8 by 29 7/8 in., 37 by 75.8 cm
On March 24, 1860, during a late-season snowstorm, the influential shogunal advisor Chief Minister Ii Naosuke (1815-1860), was assassinated outside Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle by a group of anti-shogunate, anti-Western ronin; the event became known as the Sakuradamon Incident (Sakuradamon-gai no hen). Yoshitoshi's snowy landscape provides a disconcertingly calming backdrop for the desperate, dynamic depiction of the assassination in the foreground. The three central figures are, from right to left, Kada Kiutaro, Sano Takenosuke, and Sakabe Saburo Uemon, presumably Naosuke is still in the palanquin.
The Ii family were steadfast supporters of the shogunate in the mid-19th century bakumatsu period (lit. 'closing curtain,' last stage of the shogunate), and their head, Naosuke, encouraged the shogun to modernize Japan and establish strong trading ties with the outside world as early as 1858. More traditional elements of late Edo-period society were alarmed at the trade deals and reforms that Naosuke was actively supporting.
The assassination inaugurated what would be a decade of violence. In a statement of purpose, the assassins insisted they were not ruffians, and while admitting that some reforms may be necessary, they insisted that the actions of the shogunate were undermining military traditions and polluting the national character. Though the shogunate would subsequently back down from the reforms favored by Naosuke, acts of terroristic violence increased in frequency until the Meiji Restoration of 1867 ended the shogunate and put effective power into the hands of Emperor Meiji (1852-1912).
In 1873 Yoshitoshi began using the new go (art name), Taiso (lit. 'great resurrection'), which is believed to coincide with his emerging from a period of illness (often characterized as depression) which had been exacerbated by an apparent lack of productivity in the woodblock print market and subsequent financial pressures. The success of this print helped galvanize his restoration: he was said to have vowed that if was not appreciated he would "retire to the countryside and give up his career as an artist."
Highlights of Japanese Printmaking: Part Five - Yoshitoshi, Scholten Japanese Art, New York, 2017, cat. no. 50
Roger Keyes, Courage and Silence, 1983, p. 398, no. 293
John Stevenson, 'Violence and Serenity: Yoshitoshi's Life and Work,' in Beauty and Violence, 1992, p. 14
Marius B. Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, 2002, pp. 294-297 (re: assassination, statement of purpose)
Stephen Turnbull, Samurai: The World of the Warrior, 2011, pp. 68-69 (re: assassination)
Ota Memorial Museum of Art, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: 120th Memorial Retrospective, 2012, pp. 72-73, no. 98
Yuriko Iwakiri, Yoshitoshi, 2014, pp. 68-69, no. 98
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site last updated
November 18, 2020
Scholten Japanese Art
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New York, New York 10019
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