Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Heron Maiden, New Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts


Artist: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839 - 1892)
Title: Heron Maiden
Series title: New Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts
Publisher: Sasaki Toyokichi
Date: 1889
Size: 35.4 x 24.4 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

yoshitoshi tsukioka, heron maiden, sagi musume
yoshitoshi tsukioka, heron maiden, sagi musume yoshitoshi tsukioka, heron maiden, sagi musume

The artist known as the last, great traditional woodblock print artist, Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, was entranced by ghost stories and the spiritual. This was partly due to his teacher, Kuniyoshi Utagawa, being superstitious, and partly due to his own experiences with ghostly sightings, including a supposed run-in with a spirit in 1871. Throughout his life, Yoshitoshi produced many prints of a more macabre nature touching on spirits in other series besides his Thirty-six Ghosts.

The eeriness of this series is playfully rendered by the mock-worm eaten border around each print. Interestingly, Yoshitoshi's Thirty-Six Ghosts was produced at a time when the recently established Meiji government actively discouraged anything that contradicted Western science and rationality, leading some critics to regard this series as a criticism of the government's new ideology. These works show that Yoshitoshi still found great inspiration from the rural folk tales that were prevalent throughout Japan's history.

The work has its basis in the eponymous folk tale which resembles the famous Russian story Swan Lake and is often performed as a dance or in Kabuki theatre. In the tale, a man finds an injured heron and cares for it until it is strong enough to fly again. Later on in his life he meets a woman who then becomes his wife, making their living by selling the silk brocades which she weaves. One day when the husband chances upon his wife at work, he realises that she is actually the heron he had once saved, causing their relationship to sadly end. Yoshitoshi's Heron Maiden is classically mysterious and veiled in all white garments.

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
SubjectBeauty & Female, Ghosts & Religion, Animal & Birds
Dimensions35.4 x 24.4 cm
Condition ReportLeft margin restored, colour running on the top of the cartouche, light creases and soiling.
We found other products you might like!