From the 16th Century until 1809, Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden. The Finnish War was fought between Sweden and the Russia Empire from 1808-09; Sweden lost and Russia came to rule over the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland, right up until 1917. In the 1880’s and 90’s the Tsar sought to assimilate Finland into Russian culture and politics, essentially trying to break its autonomy by forcing a mandatory five-year military service for young men, in addition to making Russian the official language. In 1899 the February Manifesto enacted Russian law in Finland, which upset large numbers of Finns who vowed resistance.
Isto painted The Attack in this climate; Russia is personified by the two-headed eagle, an animal symbolizing Empire. The eagle attacks a law book in the arms of the fair maiden, who is the personification of Finland. The painting was famous at the time for it came to represent the resistance of the Finnish people. Prints were widely distributed, despite Russian attempts to squash the image.