Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Stories of the Floating World, Aikawa Teusui


Artist: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892)
Title: Aikawa Teusui
Series: Brocade Pictures of the East: Stories of the Floating World
Publisher: Masudaya Ginjiro
Date: 1867-1868
Dimensions: 24.1 x 35.3 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.


'Brocade Pictures of the East: Stories of the Floating World' series dates from early years of Yoshitoshi's career as a printmaker, long before his great series 'One Hundred Aspects of the Moon' (1885-1892). The series contains popular stories of drama and violence by various storytellers rewritten by Kanagaki Robun, Edo born writer.


The famous swordsman Araki Masaemon attacks Takenouchi Gentan with a small knife. Gentan's contorted face expresses deep outrage and pain. Thick smoke of the fire partially covers snowy mountains in the background.


The scene is a part of the events known as Igagoe Revenge where Watanabe Kazuma kills the murderer of his father, Kawai Matagoro, at Iga Pass. Shizuma is aided by Araki Masaemon, a warrior whose agility in the final fight has made him legendary as a swordmaster.


Here, Masaemon fights Gentan on the steps of a castle town. Gentan, being on the Matagoro's side, rushes to protect him and prevent Kazuma's victory. Masaemon however, catches and slays him swiftly and shortly after that, Kazuma manages to kill Matagoro and place his head on his father's grave.

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)
SubjectSamurai & Male
Size24.1 x 35.3 cm
Condition ReportRestored holes. Slightly trimmed. Minor tears on the left margin. Oxidised red pigment on the fire area.