Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Beauty with Shamisen, Thirty-two Aspects of Manners and Customs


Artist: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892)
Title: 'Tanoshindesou' - Kaei nenkan shiso no fuzoku (A Teacher of the Kaei Era (1848-1854) Looks as if She's Enjoying Herself)
Series title: Fuzoku Sanjuniso (Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners)
Publisher: Tsunashima Kamekichi
Date: 1888
Size: 26.9 x 38 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

Yoshitoshi Tsukioka is considered to be the last great, traditional woodblock print artist. Though he originally was fascinated with the wave of Western culture following the Meiji revolution, he soon turned to try to protect his traditional culture against the surge from abroad.

In his series 'Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners' Yoshitoshi gives a glimpse at the daily life of the beauties of various classes in Japan. Each print's title signifies an emotion that the woman is feeling at the time. Here we see 'enjoyment' as the women, a teacher in the mid-19th century, practices her shamisen, a traditional Japanese instrument similar to a guitar. It was a favourite instrument for geisha and the instrument is usually associated with their profession. As such, the lady in this print would have taught a majority of geisha. It was unusual for women to work and earn their own living, therefore traditionally shamisen teachers were considered rather unhappy people, the opposite of what the title suggests.

Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839 - 1892)

Yoshitoshi Tsukioka was one of the leading woodblock print artists during the Meiji era (1868-1912) and one of the last to work in the traditional ukiyo-e manner. Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), he showed a strong interest in classical Japanese literature and history. When he was 11, he became a student at Kuniyoshi Utagawa’s studio. Under his teacher’s guidance, he showed exquisite draftsmanship and learned how to draw from life, something not necessarily part of the training schools of painting and illustration in Japan.

Yoshitoshi’s rise as an artist came at a time when Japan was faced with great changes and challenges. The new Meiji era (1868-1912) brought many conflicts between those loyal to tradition and those wishing to embark on a process of forced modernisation and adoption of western values. These sentiments, along with having witnessed some of the violent uprisings, influenced his early career, with intense, often disturbing images that reflect turmoil and pain. Even so, many other prints from this early period show whimsical touches, with reinterpretation of themes seen in his teacher Kuniyoshi’s works. With deep cultural roots, Yoshitoshi’s style was dynamic and distinctive: he was known for experimentation in style and genre, as well as for his innovative works. He worked on series depicting kabuki actors, bijinga (pictures of beautiful women), warriors, monsters and ghosts. Supernatural themes abound in his later work, showing a fascination for old Japanese folk stories.

The publishing of Yoshitoshi’s most popular series 'One Hundred Aspects of the Moon' commenced in 1885 and spanned a wide variety of subjects, such as warrior, animals, ghosts, natural phenomena, beauties and others. The artist’s early tendency for gore and horror was replaced by images of lyricism, calm, spirituality and psychological depth. 'Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners', published in 1888, shows Yoshitoshi’s ability to portray emotions like no other artist of his time, presenting women of various background and eras in Japanese history, each with distinct traits.

In 1889, the series 'New Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts' started to be published, showing images of apparitions, mostly based on folklore and plays, depicted powerfully and imaginatively. This was, perhaps, a catharsis for the artist who claimed to have seen ghosts and strongly believed in supernatural beings. Many of Yoshitoshi’s late works were acclaimed at a time when western techniques of mass production such as photography were making the woodblock obsolete, breaking new ground by portraying intense human feelings through a traditional medium. He became a master teacher and had notable pupils such as Toshikata Mizuno and Toshihide Migita.

More Information
Print FormatOban (Vertical)
ArtistYoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839 - 1892)
SubjectBeauty & Female
Size26.9 x 38 cm
Condition ReportSlight tears on margins. Small hole on top margin. Pinholes. Creases on bottom corners. Tape residue on back, top corners.
publisherKagiya Hanjiro:1843-1851