YOSHITOSHI TAISO BIOGRAPHY
Yoshitoshi is the last creative genius of ukiyoe. His career spanned traditional Japan and the modernization of Meiji. He was twenty-eight years old in 1868, the year that reformers “restored” the Meiji Emperor and opened Japan to the West. Yoshitoshi absorbed western styles and drawing techniques and integrated them into a traditional Japanese art form, color woodblock prints.
He was born the son of a physician in 1839. Even as a young boy he showed remarkable talent. At the age of 12, he became one of Kuniyoshi’s most promising students, and in 1854 he produced his first woodblock print. In the early years of the Meiji Period, his work played an important role in reminding the Japanese people of their past glories as well as presenting a new, modernized Japan to the world. However, public interest in ukiyoe was on the decline and Yoshitoshi had to fight bitterly for his very existence as an artist. Due to the pressures of a changing Japan, he suffered a nervous breakdown in 1872. A year later, he resumed his work and adopted the go (artist’s name) of Taiso. In 1885 he began to design the 100 Aspects of the Moon, a most acclaimed and popular series. Viewed as a whole, the series shows a rich imagination at the heighth of its powers. The prints are executed with a delicacy, brightness and assurance rarely found in
Ukiyoe during this period. In addition, Yoshitoshi often used mica and gaufrage to enhance his designs.
His finest images of women form a series entitled, “Fuzoku sanjuniso”, Thirty-two Aspects of Manners and Customs which was published in 1888. The series is about women of different social classes from 1789 to Yoshitoshi’s present. Sensitively conceived and lavishly produced, the prints are vignettes of women caught in typical moments of their daily lives. The series has become a classic and fetches high prices from collectors.
Yoshitoshi lived in exciting times. The Meiji Restoration of 1868 revolutionized a society, as Japan opened its doors to the rest of the world after two centuries of isolation. Along with the excitement, Meiji intellectuals felt acute nostalgia for the customs and traditions being swept away, a nostalgia which Yoshitoshi shared.
Yoshitoshi’s publisher invested heavily in the series and the prints are unusually luxurious. Techniques such as embossing, burnishing, and color grading were used extravagantly, making early impressions of the series some of the most finely produced woodblock prints of Meiji.
In 1892, Yoshitoshi produced the 36 Ghost Series.
100 Views of the Moon by Yoshitoshi Taiso, Ronin Gallery.
Yoshitoshi’s Women, the woodblock print series, “Fuzoku sanjuniso”, John Stevenson, University of Washington Press, 1995.