Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Ushiwakamaru and Monk, Meiji


Artist: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892)
Title: The Picture of Ushiwakamaru and the Great Monk in Mt. Kurama
Publisher: Kobayashi Tetsujiro
Date: 1880
Size: (L) 23.7 x 36 (C) 23.6 x 36 (R) 23.6 x 36 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.


The print shows a young Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1158-1189), then known as Ushiwakamaru, enduring training at a monastery in Mt. Kurama. Yoshitsune has become a legendary hero in Japan for his countless military exploits recounted in the Japanese epic The Tale of Heike. As shown in the print, Yoshitsune's prowess in combat was present in his early years. The bearded man to the right of the print is Sōjōbō, a powerful king of the tengu (Japanese demons), who taught Yoshitsune swordsmanship and battle tactics. Sōjōbō's renowned strength is rooted in the yamabushi tradition, a type of mountain asceticism which explores esoteric and extreme physical practices.

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 FormatTriptych
ArtistYoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839 - 1892)
SubjectSamurai & Male, Ghosts & Religion
Size(L) 23.7 x 36 (C) 23.6 x 36 (R) 23.6 x 36 cm
Condition ReportBacking along edge of print. Slight thinning of paper on centre print.