The Series “The 47 Ronin” or “Forty-seven pictures of loyal retainers”
The revenge of the forty-seven rōnin (四十七士, Shijūshichishi), also known as the Akō incident (赤穂事件, Akō jiken) or Akō vendetta, is an 18th-century historical event in Japan in which a band of rōnin (leaderless samurai) avenged the death of their master. The story tells of a group of samurai who were left leaderless after their feudal lord or daimyō Asano Naganori was compelled to perform seppuku (ritual suicide) for assaulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka. After waiting and planning for a year, the rōnin avenged their master’s honor by killing Kira. They were then obliged to commit seppuku for the crime of murder. This true story was popularized in Japanese culture as emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that people should display in their daily lives. The popularity of the tale grew during the Meiji era, during which Japan underwent rapid modernization, and the legend became entrenched within discourses of national heritage and identity.
Fictionalized accounts of the tale of the forty-seven rōnin are known as Chūshingura.
This woodblock print is of the samurai Akagaki Genzo Shigekata.
The Woodblock Print
This aiban-sized woodblock print is in very fine condition. Great color and detail with intact and clean margins, the print is backed and has minor paper discolorations. With that exception, this woodblock print from 1896 has good color, visible embossing, and metallic ink that is still reflective. A very fine copy of this print that can surely contribute to a collection of the 47 Ronin series or any samurai collection.
About the Artist
Ogata Gekkō (尾形月耕, 1859-1920) was a Japanese artist who is considered one of the great ukiyo-e woodblock print artists of the late 19th century. Born on November 25, 1859, in Edo (modern-day Tokyo), he was the son of a samurai family. Gekko studied under Kawanabe Kyosai and Taiso Yoshitoshi, two prominent ukiyo-e artists, during the Meiji period. Gekkō was self-taught in art and began by decorating porcelain and rickshaws, and designing flyers for the pleasure quarters. Around 1881 he took the surname Ogata at the insistence of a descendant of the painter Ogata Kōrin. He soon was designing prints and illustrating books and newspapers, but his talents soon caught the attention of publishers and collectors, and he started creating woodblock prints.
Gekko’s artwork reflected the changing times in Japan during the Meiji period, as the country opened up to the West and modernized rapidly. His prints often featured contemporary subjects, such as train stations, factories, and steamships, as well as historical scenes and traditional Japanese motifs. His style was characterized by bold outlines, strong contrasts, and vivid colors, which were achieved through the use of multiple woodblocks.
In addition to woodblock prints, Gekko also created paintings and illustrations. His work was exhibited both in Japan and overseas, including at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. He was also a member of the Tokyo Bijutsu Club and the Japan Art Association.
Gekko was active in the Japanese art community and contributed to the development of the art form. He taught at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts and was involved in the publication of the influential art magazine “Taiyo.” He also collaborated with other artists, such as Tsukioka Kogyo and Mizuno Toshikata, to create joint print series.
Gekko continued to create art until his death in 1920.