Female Samurai
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Series: The Meiji period (明治時代, Meiji-jidai) Restoration: 1868 -1912

Category: Women Samurai

Accession Number: DFJN2021PRWS011

Title (Original): 大越愛人の小野eを復讐する
Title: ookoshi aijin no ono e wo fukuji suru
Translated Title: Ohatsu Avenging Her Mistress Onoe
(from the series: Twenty-four Accomplishments in Imperial Japan)

Artist (Original): 月岡芳年1839-1892 

Artist:  Tsukioka Yoshitoshi 1839-1892
Medium: Japanese woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and colour on paper
Signature: Taiso Yoshitoshi hitsu
Seal: Taiso

Publisher (Original): 津田源七 

Publisher: Tsuda Genshichi
Engraver: Unknown
Publication Date: 1881 

Acquisition Date: 28 / 10 / 2021

Provenance: Fuji Arts, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Country of origin: Japan
Size: Vertical 14 1/8” x 9 ¾ “ 36 x 24.75cm
Condition: Print with excellent colour and detail. Small tear at edge and hole (repaired) across top. Slight toning, diagonal fold across top.

Twenty-four Accomplishments in Imperial Japan – Yoshitoshi’s late series.
Highlights important figures throughout the history of Imperial Japan, from both legend and real life. These terrific images include valiant samurai, brave retainers, loyal wives, and fantastic demons. Beautifully drawn with a wonderful sense of realism and finely printed with rich jewel-tone colours, these designs are a great example of Yoshitoshi’s mature artistic style.

Ohatsu Avenging Her Mistress Onoe.
Terrific scene from the kabuki play commonly known as “Kagamiyama.” In the drama, the jealous senior lady-in-waiting Iwafuji plotted the downfall of Onoe, a junior lady-in-waiting, by substituting a zori sandal for a valuable statue in Onoe’s care. When the sandal was discovered, Iwafuji publicly beat and humiliated Onoe, who then committed suicide.  Her faithful servant, Ohatsu discovered her suicide note with the sandal, but was too late to save her. To avenge her mistress’s death, Ohatsu kills Iwafuji in the garden. Here, Ohatsu is shown cleaning the blood from her sword with the zori sandal as petals fall from the blossoming cherry tree overhead, pale streaks of rain slanting across the scene. Beautifully detailed with burnishing on the ribs of the umbrella, metallic pigment that has oxidised to a dark tone on the sword blade, and fine bokashi shading on the background. A dynamic composition and great illustration from this story of loyalty and devotion.


In keeping with much of Yoshitoshi’s work, the beauty of this print is enhanced by the underlying story. The image illustrated is the final scene (from act VII) of the Kagamiyama kokyô no nishikie, popularly known as Onna Chûshingura (‘The women’s Chûshingura’), written by Yo Yodai in January 1782. It is a tragic story full of palace intrigue, the more believable as the author was physician to the shogun. The play is based on a sandal that actually happened in 1724, at the Edo palace of Lord Matsudaira of Suo, but Yo Yodai set it in a remote age, as was usual with many kabuki plays. The Tokugawa shogunate was generally ill-disposed to criticism however veiled and kabuki playwrights had to proceed with the greatest caution if they wanted to escape persecution. Ukiyo-e artists were obliged to work with similar circumspection. Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) is the best-known ukiyo-e artist who was  imprisoned (Albeit for a short period) for alluding to the  behaviour of the ruling shogun in a triptych he designed entitled Taikô Hideyoshi and his five wives on an excursion to Rakutô.

Onoe is second lady-in-waiting to the daughter of the Kamakura period shogun Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-99). The chief lady-in-waiting, Iwafuji, succeeds in discrediting her in the course of the play. Her chief motive is jealousy, since Onoe is loved and trusted by the princess above all other court ladies. After along loak-and-dagger narrative Onoe commits suicide and Ohatsu, her personal attendant, vows revenge.
She succeeds in unravelling the intrigue and during a final encounter Ohatsu kills Iwafuji with her sword. The umbrella in the picture was used by Ohatsu at the beginning of the fight to defend herself against Iwafuji. The sandal with which she wipes the sword plays a symbolic role. Onoe was once beaten with a sandal by Iwafuji, and it became the symbol of her humiliation.

The series was very popular during Yoshitoshi’s lifetime and numerous impressions were made. The whole series was posthumously republished by Matsuki Heikichi between 1893 and 1895. In this edition paler colours were used, some block changes occurred, but most telling difference is Yoshitoshi’s signature. In the first edition it was  printed in a cartouche, but Matsuki Heikichi had the complete cartouche removed and inserted the signature that Yoshitoshi used towards the end of his life.

Collections: Arthur and Donna Levis, USA

References: Illustrated in the Eric van den Ing and Robert Schaap publication Beauty and Violence: Japanese Prints by Yoshitoshi, p.62

Condition: Excellent detail. Two attached panels, backed with paper. A few holes along and slight separation at ends of horizontal centrefold (repaired). A few creases.

Great kabuki scene from the tale of Omatsu, the female bandit of Kasamatsu Pass. She smiles as she looks over her shoulder at Natsume Shirozaburo, who cradles a baby to his chest. He waves a hand at her dismissively as he turns his head away, frowning angrily. The beauty wears a black kimono patterned with pine branches over a kimono that has red insets featuring skulls and bones, and a suit of armour. A burnished black lacquer makeup chest with a mirror top rests on the floor at left, while the alcove at upper right holds a flower arrangement and a hanging scroll of what might be Omatsu herself. From left, the actors are Bando Shuka I and Ichikawa Danjuro VIII. Nice expressive figures in a handsome detailed interior setting, with burnishing on the black lacquer chest and mirror.





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