Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s “The Story of Otomi and Yosaburo” (1885)
His working life spanned a period of cataclysmic change in Japanese culture. Japanese print maker Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) started out in the Edo Period before Commodore Perry opened his island nation to the Western world, and died during the Meiji Restoration, which saw Japan being increasingly influenced by American and European ways. Yoshitoshi himself was a traditionalist in a rapidly changing world.
The woodblock art form in which he worked was referred to as ukiyo-e, commonly translated as “pictures of the floating world.” According to John Fiorillo:
Yoshitoshi was arguably the finest ukiyo-e print designer of the late nineteenth century. His figures were vividly realized and invested with a realism that relied, not insignificantly, on superb drawing ability. As he broke away from stagnating convention, Yoshitoshi’s seemingly unfettered imagination found expression in many subjects: history, folklore, legend, warrior tales, women, daily life, and old and new customs. He was uniquely gifted as a visual artist and a connoisseur of stories about Japanese and Chinese history and legend. By bridging the transition from the feudal society of the Edo period to the enlightenment restoration of the Meiji period, he succeeded in revitalizing ukiyo-e in unexpected ways.
“A Young Woman from the Kansei Period Playing with Her Cat” (1888)
This print is from a series entitled Thirty-two types of Beauty in Daily Life (Fūzoku sanjūnisō).
“A Glimpse of the Moon” (1886)
This image is from a famous old tale. According to Scholten Japanese Art:
This composition presents a combination of stories and references. The tale originates from chapter 21 of the 14th-century historical epic Chronicle of Great Peace (Taiheiki). Lord Ko Moronao (d. 1351), a chief retainer of the Shogun Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358), hears of a great beauty who happens to be the wife of another shogunal official, En’ya Takasada. Moronao arranges to see her after a bath and, even though she was without the feminine trappings of splendid robes and make-up, finds her irresistible. In an effort to take her for himself, he accuses En’ya of treason. But in a twist of fate, En’ya tries to flee and Moronao has the official and his family, including his wife, killed.
I decided to take a look at Yoshitoshi because he is not well known in the West, except to art specialists. His use of line and color in pursuit of traditional Japanese subjects during a period of transition makes him a great master in my book.