Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Looking Feminine, Courtesan, Thirty-Two Aspects of Customs and Manners
Original Japanese woodblock print.
Artist: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839 – 1892)
Title: 10. Looking Feminine – the appearance of a ‘castle-toppler’ of the Tempo era
Series: Thirty-Two Aspects of Customs and Manners
Publisher: Tsunajima Kamekichi
A print from Yoshitoshi’s series ‘Thirty-Two Aspects of Customs and Manners’ which chronologically depicts different women from the Kansei era (1789-1801) to the Meiji era (1860-1912). The Kansei era was marked by reactionary reforms put in place to rectify the perceived excesses of the Japanese shogunate, limiting trade with other nations by enforcing a stricter closed door policy. In contrast, the Meiji era saw Japan opening up to the West and even adopting some of its culture and politics. Yoshitoshi interestingly depicts this dramatically eventful history through women of various background and sentiment.
The lady depicted in this image is described as a keisei, or “castle-toppler”. The name refers to high-ranking courtesans able to captivate powerful lords though their beauty and cause them to neglect their official duties. Her decadent robes are a clear signifier of her wealth and eminent position. On first publication, the design was printed with brass dust to make her appear even more luxurious, however this has now darkened due to the natural process of oxidation. Yoshitoshi shows off the opulence of the Tempo era courtesans who were able again to indulge in luxuries after the weakening conservative reforms of the Tokugawa government.
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.
|Print Format||Oban (Vertical)|
|Artist||Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839 - 1892)|
|Subject||Beauty & Female|