Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Benkei at Daimotsu Bay, One Hundred Aspects of the Moon


Artist: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892)
Title: Moon Above the Sea at Daimotsu Bay
Series title: One Hundred Aspects of the Moon
Publisher: Akiyama Buemon
Date: 1886
Size: 24 x 35.8 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

yoshitoshi tsukioka, benkei, daimotsu bay, one hundred aspects of the moon
yoshitoshi tsukioka, benkei, daimotsu bay, one hundred aspects of the moon yoshitoshi tsukioka, benkei, daimotsu bay, one hundred aspects of the moon

'One Hundred Aspects of the Moon' is one of Yoshitoshi's most popular series. It contains one hundred woodblock prints depicting various, unrelated figures from Japanese and Chinese culture, with the moon as its unifying theme and exploring a range of tones and emotions for the subjects depicted. Yoshitoshi worked within a traditional art form, yet his drawings incorporated western techniques and were unlike any style that had come before him. The series was begun in 1885 and completed just before the artist's death in 1892.

Leaving his lover Shizuka at the coast of Daimotsu-no-ura, Minamoto no Yoshitsune swiftly departs on an ocean voyage with his retinue. He is fleeing his brother, now the most powerful warlord in Japan, who is attempting to assassinate his own sibling in a bout of paranoia and rumours. The crossing takes them over a stretch of sea where a large battle took place against the Taira clan. A storm rapidly descends upon them. As the men on board look out into the distance, the warriors from the Taira clan arise in the crashing waves of the sea, vengeful ghosts sworn to kill Yoshitsune. The warrior monk Benkei, Yoshitsune's closest retainer, takes to the bow, fervently reciting the Buddhist sutras and quelling the phantom uprise. During the printing process, the waves have been dusted with mica powder, giving the effect of light reflecting off the sea from the shadowy moon.

Yoshitoshi Tsukioka

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
SubjectSamurai & Male, Ghosts & Religion
Dimensions24 x 35.8 cm
Condition ReportSlightly trimmed, light soiling.
SeriesOne Hundred Aspects of the Moon
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