The artist Suzuki Toshimoto (鈴木年基 also 鈴樹年基) was active circa 1877–1890. He was born around 1854 as Suzuki Rainosuke (鈴木雷之助) and lived in Osaka. He was a disciple of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), which is evident from his style of design, and also produced Western-style (yôga) landscape paintings of Kamigata (Osaka/Kyoto region) that reveal the influence of the Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915). Suzuki was also a writer/editor and publisher under his birth name Suzuki Rainosuke. He also had a close association with the publishers Wataya Kihei (綿屋喜兵衛) and Maeda Kijirô (前田喜次郎). Among is most familiar works are his prints of the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion, including designs with biographical inscriptions of the famous personages. Many other woodblock artists of his time supplied illustrations for the increasingly popular newspapers, which Suzuki did for the newspaper Shinbun zue 新聞図会 under the name Suzuki Sessai. His other gô included Raisai Toshimoto (雷斉 or 蕾斎), although he also signed simply as Rai Toshimoto (雷年基), as on the print we offer here. The date of his death is unknown, but seems to have occurred after 1920 and before 1931 when Ukiyo-e shiden (Biographies of ukiyo-e masters, 浮世絵師伝) was published and listed Suzuki as deceased.
When the Meiji Ishin (Meiji Restoration: 明治維新) effectively restored imperial rule to Japan in 1868 under Emperor Meiji, Saigô Takamori (西郷隆盛, Jan. 23, 1828 – Sept. 24, 1877) objected vehemently to the negotiated settlement that would allow the Tokugawa shogunate to retain substantial political power. The dispute led to the Boshin Sensô (Boshin War: 戊辰戦争), a civil conflict fought in 1868-69 between the Tokugawa and those seeking to return political power to the Imperial Court. In January 1868, Yoshinobu (the last shogun) attacked the Satsuma and Chôshû forces in the palatial Edo residence of the Satsuma daimyô (feudal lord: 大名) under Saigô's command. Ultimately, however, Yoshinobu was defeated by Saigô's imperial forces at the Battle of Kôshû-Katsunuma (Kôshû-Katsunuma no tatakai: 甲州勝沼の戦い). Saigô then surrounded Edo in May 1868, forcing its unconditional surrender. Saigô maintained an important role in governing, but ran afoul of the majority when he insisted that Japan should go to war with Korea in 1873 due to Korea's refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Emperor Meiji as head of state of the Empire of Japan. Saigô resigned from all of his government positions in protest and returned to his hometown of Kagoshima. A private military academy was established in Kagoshima for the faithful samurai who had also resigned their posts to follow Saigô from Tokyo. These samurai came to dominate the Kagoshima government, and fearing a rebellion, the Imperial government sent warships to Kagoshima to remove weapons from its arsenal. This conflict, called the Satsuma Rebellion (Seinan Sensô or Southwestern War: 西南戦争 Jan. to Sept. 1877), pitted disenfranchised samurai against the recently established imperial government. Although dismayed by the revolt, Saigô was reluctantly persuaded to lead the rebels against the central government. During battle, Saigô was badly injured. His death came either from self-inflicted seppuku (ritual suicide: 切腹) or through decapitation by his men who wanted to grant their fallen leader an honorable death rather than see him surrender or be captured. With Saigô's death the Satsuma Rebellion came to an end.
See our (sold) print by Yoshimine (YMN02) depicting Saigô Takamori for a more detailed summary of the rebellion.
Maehara Ikkaku (前原一角) was a fictional hero written into the Seinan Sensô. According to the inscription on Suzuki Toshimoto's print, after the death of his elder brother in battle, Maehara followed Saigô Takamori in the rebellion in order to avenge his brother's death. He wielded an enormous sword to lop off many heads of his enemies.
Suzuki's portrayal of Maehara Ikkaku is one of the most dynamic in the series. He is caught mid-scream during battle, as he is about to chop off an adversary's head. The bright red dye used for the upper robe lends an intense coloration appropriate to the scene and theme.