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Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892)

Prints in Collection

By now you must be near Komakata, a cuckoo calls - Takao from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon
By now you must be near Komakata, a cuckoo calls - Takao
from the series
One Hundred Aspects
of the Moon, 1885

IHL Cat. #970

By now you must be near Komakata, a cuckoo calls - Takao from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (modern reprint)
By now you must be near Komakata, a cuckoo calls - Takao
from the series
One Hundred Aspects
of the Moon (modern reprint),
c. 1950s

IHL Cat. #1396


Ariko -
Sink Beneath the Waves

from the series
One Hundred Aspects
of the Moon, 1886
IHL Cat. #51 

IHL Cat. #52
Bon Festival Moon
from the series
One Hundred Aspects
of the Moon, 1887

IHL Cat. #1671

IHL Cat. #332
The full moon coming with a challenge to flaunt its beautiful brow - Fukami Jikyu
from the series
One Hundred Aspects
of the Moon, 1887
IHL Cat. #43 

Kasuga Moon
from the series
One Hundred Aspects
of the Moon, 1888
IHL Cat. #83 

Taira no Tadanori
from the series
One Hundred Aspects
of the Moon, 1890

IHL Cat. #1670 

The Moon's Invention -
Hozo Temple
from the series
One Hundred Aspects
of the Moon, 18
IHL Cat. #80

-intentionally left blank-

-intentionally left blank-

-intentionally left blank-

-intentionally left blank-

-intentionally left blank-

Sources: Artelino Japanese Prints website article by Dieter Wanczurahttp://www.artelino.com/articles/yoshitoshi.asp; Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, John Stevenson, Hotei Publishing, , 2001; SinisterDesigns websitehttp://www.sinister-designs.com/graphicarts/yoshitoshi.html; Wikipediawebsite http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoshitoshi; The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Woodblock Prints, Amy Reigle Newland, Hotei Publishing Company, 2005, p. 251.

Early Years

Born April 30, 1839 in Edo (the old name for Tokyo) to OwariyaKinzaburō (1815-1863), a merchant who had purchased his samurai status, and aunknown mother, he was named Yonejirō 米次郎 at birth.  At an early age,Yonejirō was sent to live with his uncle, a successful pharmacist.  In1850, at the age of eleven, his uncle enrolled him as a residentstudent in the school of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861), one of the mostsuccessful woodblock print designers in Edo and one of its morecolorful characters.  As was customary, Kuniyoshi gave Yonejirō a newname, Yoshitoshi, derived from the second character of Kuniyoshi'sname.  Kuniyoshi took a special interest in Yoshitoshi allowing himaccess to his personal collection of foreign prints and engravings.  

In 1853, at the age of fourteen, Yoshitoshi composed his first woodblock print - a triptych of the naval battle of Dannoura in which the Minamoto clan destroyed the forces of the Taira clan in 1185. That same year, US Commodore Perry arrived with a fleet of battleships and forced Japan to open its door to the West. 

Kuniyoshi's death in 1861, left the 22 year old Yoshitoshistruggling to make a living.  In 1863, Yoshitoshi's natural fatherdied. 

Yonejiro Becomes Yoshitoshi (芳年)

After his father's death, Yoshitoshi began to sign some of his prints Tsukioka Yoshitoshi,claiming a rather vague relationship between his uncle's family and theTsukioka family, which had produced the eighteenth-century Osakapainter, Tsukioka Settei.  In that same year a daughter, who died a year later, wasborn to Yoshitoshi.  (The name of Yoshitoshi'swife at that time is unknown.)

Political and Civil Unrest

Yoshitoshi's formative years were lived in a period of greatunrest.  The continuing encroachment of Westerners and Western ideasthrough the 1850s and 1860s had a profoundly unsettling effect on afeudal and very closed Japanese society.  While popular sentiment wasvery anti-Western there were those who realized that the only defenseagainst the West was to adopt its superior military and economictechnology. The tension between rejecting Western influence andembracing Western technology, coupled with crop failures, economicrecession and hyper-inflation shook the ruling Tokugawa shogunate(which had ruled since 1603) to its foundations.  This instability leadto armed conflict between the Tokugawa shogunate (which held power inthe name of the emperor, but exercised independent and almost absolutecontrol over all policy) and competing aristocrats and samurai whowanted to install a more modern government under the guise of restoringthe emperor to his rightful role. This war culminated in the 1868overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate government and its replacement by amore modern government which proclaimed an imperial restoration and anew era of Meiji ("Enlightened Rule").  Stevenson notes thatthe impact of Yoshitoshi's witnessing the bloody massacre of twothousand shogun troops by the well-armed forces of the emperor at theend of the civil war "reverberated through Yoshitoshi's work for manyyears."  

Disturbing Images

Between1866 and 1868 Yoshitoshi produced a number of gruesome and sadisticdesigns in a series called Twenty-eight Murders with Verse.  Theseprints, several of which show the stabbing or decapitation of women,were quite popular both in Japan and the West, and sold well.  JohnStevenson, in his seminal work, One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, states that "the notoriety of the violence in Yoshitoshi's work is justified to the extentthat he did design shocking images more effectively than any otherprint maker.  However, the emphasis that modern critics and galleriesplace on his bloody prints gives a false perspective to his work ...[and] does not give an accurate impression of the subtlety, insight,and integrity of the bulk of Yoshitoshi's designs."

Depression and Resurrection

Atthe time of the Meiji Restoration, Yoshitoshi was achieving a measureof success, with over 240 prints published in 1868 and 1869.  Anewspaper ranked him fourth in a list of woodblock print artists andhis name was included in a popular guidebook to Tokyo.  However, by themiddle of 1869 his print output slowed to a trickle and did not pick upuntil the end of 1871, although he did maintain his studio and pupils. As Stevenson states, "perhaps Yoshitoshi's inspiration had beenexhausted by the trauma of the recent past."

Towards the end of1871, Yoshitoshi started to received commissions, producing severalseries, but by the next year he had fallen into a deep depression. While he continued to teach, he did not produce prints again until theend of 1872.  By the end of 1873 he had worked his way out of hisdepression and produced two triptychs which he signed with a new artistname, Taiso (大蘇) or "Great Resurrection." 

The Satsuma Rebellion

In 1877 political events again changed Yoshitoshi's fortunes. With thedismantling of the feudal system, the samurai found their livelihoodand values under attack, with the most egregious attack being the 1876edict prohibiting the wearing of a sword, the quintessential symbol ofthe samurai, by anyone except members of the conscript army.  Samurairesentment culminated in the Satsuma Rebellion led by the aristocratSaigo Takamori, a hero to many Japanese who regarded him as a symbol ofthe values of the samurai class.  After meeting with initial success,his forces were pushed back by the imperial troops to a hillside nearKagoshima and made a final stand. In this final battle, 60,000government forces faced 40,000 rebels resulting in 16,000 casualtiesfor the government and 20,000 casualties for the rebels.  Saigo waswounded and later committed seppuku.

The Satsuma Rebellion provided a boom to newspapers and publisherscommissioned woodblock print artists to design pictures of the events. Yoshitoshi was literally flooded with commissions, designing prints forat least nine different publishers.  These prints brought Yoshitoshiboth public recognition and moderate wealth.  (See the print Illustration of the Navy Landing at Sukuchi Village in this collection.)

For additional information on prints of the Satsuma Rebellion see the article Satsuma Rebellion Prints on this website.

Newspaper Work

Source: Yoshitoshi The Splendid Decadent, Shinichi Segi, Kodansha International, 1985 p. 49.

As an additional source of income Yoshitoshi took on newspaper illustration and began creating topical prints for Tokyo's Postal News in early 1875.  The demand for his work grow with the popularity of his Satsuma Rebellion prints creating demand from other newspapers for his artwork and around 1880 he began working for Tokyo's Illustrated Liberal Newspaper (E-iri Jyu Shinmbun).  Yoshitoshi's salary at the Illustrated started at "a salary of 40 yen a month, a tidy sum in those days, plus transportation to and from the editorial offices in a pedicab bearing the Tsukioka family crest.  Later, the stipend was to rise to 100 yen a month, with twenty shares of stock and a jinrikisha into the bargain."  His newspaper work paid far more than the typical five or ten yen he would received for even his best designs.


Yoshitoshi's atelier, with more than eighty students, was the major conduit through which training in the ukiyo-e style was passed to the next generation.  One of his most famous students was his adopted son Kōgyo who was to become the artist Tsukioka Kōgyo (1869-1927).

The young Kōgyo studied with Yoshitoshi as did many other young, and some older, aspiring artists.  A stone monument erected to Yoshitoshi's memory in 1889 lists fifty-nine students and Stevenson cites a source claiming that Yoshitoshi taught over two hundred students during his lifetime. In addition to his adopted son Tsukioka Kōgyo, other well-known artists he taught include Takeuchi Keishū (1861-1942)Migata Toshihide (1863-1925), Goto Toshikage (act. c. 1868-1892), who created a memorial portrait of his teacher inscribed with Yoshitoshi's death poem (see below), and Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908), who Yoshitoshi designated to succeed him. Lesser known students include Kobayashi Toshimitsu (active 1876–1904)Yamazaki Toshinobu (1857-1886) and Yamada Toshitada (1868-1934) who are represented in this collection.

Later Years and His Death

Yoshitoshi's last years were among his most productive during which his great series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (1885–1892) and New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts (1889–1892), as well as some masterful triptychs of kabuki theater actors and scenes, were produced.

During this period he also cooperated with his friends, the actorDanjuro and others, in an attempt to preserve some of the traditionalJapanese arts.

In his last years, his mental problems started to recur. In early1891 he invited friends to a gathering of artists that did not actuallyexist. His physical conditionalso deteriorated, and his misfortune was compounded when all of hismoney was stolen in a robbery of his home. After more symptoms, he wasadmitted to a mental hospital. He eventually left the hospital in May 1892, but didnot return home, instead renting rooms.

He died three weeks later in a rented room, on June 9, 1892, from acerebral hemorrhage. He was 53 years old. A stone memorial monument toYoshitoshi was built in Higashi-okubo, Tokyo, in 1898.

yo o tsumete
terimasarishi wa
natsu no tsuki

holding back the night
with its increasing brilliance
the summer moon
-- Yoshitoshi's death poem

Retrospective Observations

During his life Yoshitoshi produced many series of prints, and a largenumber of triptychs, many of great merit. Two of his three best-knownseries, the One Hundred Aspects of the Moon and New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts, contain numerous masterpieces. The third, Thirty-Two Aspects of Customs and Manners,was for many years the most highly regarded of his work, but does notnow have that same status. Other less-common series also contain manyfine prints, including Famous Generals of Japan, A Collection of Desires, New Selection of Eastern Brocade Pictures, and Lives of Modern People.

While demand for his prints continued for a few years, eventuallyinterest in him waned, both in Japan and around the world. Thecanonical view in this period was that the generation of Hiroshige (1797-1858) wasreally the last of the great woodblock artists, and more traditionalcollectors stopped even earlier, at the generation of Utamaro (1753-1806) andToyokuni (1769-1825.)

However, starting in the 1970s, interest in him resumed, andreappraisal of his work has shown the quality, originality and geniusof the best of it, and the degree to which he succeeded in keeping thebest of the old Japanese woodblock print, while pushing the fieldforward by incorporating both new ideas from the West, as well as hisown innovations.

The Importance of Yoshitoshi’s Prints

Source: The Importance of Yoshitsohi's Prints, John Stevenson, appearing in Beauty and Violence: Japanese Prints by Yoshitoshi 1839-1892, Eric van den Ing and Robert Schaap, Society for Japanese Arts, 1992

Yoshitoshi gave people something new even as he presented them with images of history.  He was on the cutting edge of Japan’s struggle to adapt to the modern world even as he portrayed the old, which he turned into the universal.

Yoshitoshi developed his own personal style in the watershed period of his mental illness in the early 1870s.  The style was instantly recognizable and much copied.  In contrast to the static, decorative conventions of ukiyo-e, the lines and compositions of Yoshitoshi’s prints are full of energy.  The style was well-suited to expressing inner emotional states, subjects which Japanese artist had not previously explored, partly because of lack of suitably expressive style, partly because of lack of interest.  Yoshitoshi did not lack interest.  He was able to portray the inner states of the wide variety of people he described in his prints because of his emotional involvement with their stories and predicaments, their doubts and victories.  He related passionately to what he saw and learned.  He empathized, he cared.  

The characterization of individuals in Yoshitoshi’s prints was revolutionary.  Japanese painting had used human figures to tell a story, not to develop psychological insights.  

In the age of the photograph people still clamored for Yoshitoshi’s prints.  He was the most prolific, popular, and influential print artist of the Meiji period.  His skill and passion resisted the forces of change that threatened the old culture of Japan.  That wonderful body of folklore and history lives on today in the images that he created.

Print Series

A partial list of his print series, with dates:
  • One Hundred Stories of Japan and China (1865–1866)
  • Biographies of Modern Men (1865–1866)
  • Twenty-Eight Famous Murders with Verses (1866–1869)
  • One Hundred Warriors (1868–1869)
  • Biographies of Drunken Valiant Tigers (1874)
  • Mirror of Beauties Past and Present (1876)
  • Famous Generals of Japan (1876–1882)
  • A Collection of Desires (1877)
  • Eight Elements of Honor (1878)
  • Twenty-Four Hours with the Courtesans of Shimbashi and Yanagibashi (1880)
  • Comic Pictures of Famous Places in the Early Days of Tokyo (1881)
  • Warriors Trembling with Courage (1883–1886)
  • Yoshitoshi Manga (1885–1887)
  • One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (1885–1892)
  • Personalities of Recent Times (1886–1888)
  • Thirty-Two Aspects of Customs and Manners (1888)
  • New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts (1889–1892)

Other Names

Familiar Name: Yonejirō 米次郎
Family Name: Kinzaburō 金三郎
Family Name: Taiso 大蘇  (after 1873 Yoshitoshi changed his family name from Tsukioka to Taiso)
(Artist Names): Gyokuōrō 玉桜楼, >Gyokuō 玉桜, Ikkaisai 一魁斎, Kaisai 魁斎, Sokatei 咀華亭


Signatures - A Few Examples

Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi ga
from the series
A Modern Journey to the West

Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi hitsu with Yositoshi seal from the series
Tale of the Forty-Seven Rōnin, 1860
Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi hitsu
from the series
Strong Heroes of the Water Margin,

Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi zu with paulownia (kiri) leaf seal  from the series
A Theater Alphabet
of True Forms
, 1869

Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi zu with paulownia (kiri) leaf seal

Gyokuō Yoshitoshi hitsu
from the series
A Celebration of Gallantry
, 1865

Gyokuō Yoshitoshi hitsu from the series
Modern Celebrities of the East, 1860

ōju Gyokuō Yoshitoshi hitsu

Yoshitoshi ga
with Yoshitoshi seal
from 1890 triptych
with Yoshitoshi seal 
from the series
One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, 1885-1891


Yoshitoshi with Taiso seal
from the series
One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, 1885-1891

Ōju Yoshitoshi ga with Yoshitoshi seal, 1884

Yoshitoshi hitsu

應需? 芳年筆
ōju? Yoshitoshi hitsu

Yoshitoshi ga
from the series Twenty-Four Hours at Shinbashi and Yanagibashi, 1880

Taiso Yoshitoshi sha with Taiso and Yoshitoshi seals
ju Yoshitoshi ga with Yoshitoshi seal
from the series Mirror of Beauties Past and Present, 1875-1876

ōju Taiso Yoshitoshi hitsu from Illustration of the Navy Landing at Sukuchi Village, 1877

ōju Taiso Yoshitoshi
ōju Taiso Yoshitoshi with Yoshitoshi seal

ōju Yoshitoshi hitsu
from the series Barometer of Emotion

ōju Yoshitoshi giga
Yoshitoshi giga
from the series
Comic Pictures of Famous Places Amid the Civilization of Tōkyō

Yoshitoshi giga from the series
The Battle of the Cats and Mice, 1859 

Ryōdōjin Yoshitoshi giga
[Ryōdōjin - a person who knows both ways]
from the series 
Moral Lessons through Pictures of Good and Evil, 1880


Catalogue Raisonné of the Work of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) http://www.yoshitoshi.net/

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