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Reference » Ukiyo-e »  Artists Biographies

Yoshitoshi Tsukioka 1839-1892

One of the the leading figures in the ukiyoe world during the Meiji era, and perhaps the greatest amongst his contemporaries.
Born as the second son of Yoshioka Hyobu as Yonejiro, he was later adopted by his uncle
At the age of 12, he became an apprentice of the great ukiyoe master Utagawa Kuniyoshi. When he was 14, his first full-colour print, depicting the battle of Danno Ura was published. The production of his warrior and actor prints continued. He collaborated with his school mate Yoshiiku, who was to become his rival for life, in the series "Twenty-eight Infamous Murderers" (or Eimei Niju Hasshu Ku) which depicts acts of sheer brutality and gruesome bloodshed.  
In 1868, bakufu, the feudal regime, collapsed with the resignation of the last shogun (the supreme commander of bakufu). There was a fierce battle fought between shogun's troops and an imperial force, ending with a total defeat of the bakufu's troops. Yoshitoshi witnessed bloodshed and soon afterwards designed the extremely bloody series "One Hundred Selections of Warriors in Combat". This series became very successful, resulting in the artist's rising to the position of the forth most popular ukiyoe artist of the time. Yoshitoshi's career was successful round this time, but he was soon to experience a sharp decline in commissions.

In the early 1870's, he suffered nervous breakdown and became unable to work. Some argue that his mental instability was in connection with his seeming tendency for gory, horrifying images, though other ukiyoe artists (particularly the students of Kuniyoshi), too, composed bloody, gruesome prints.

Yoshitoshi and his contemporary ukiyoe artists endured hard times as the radical modernization of the nation proceeded. His poverty was such that his mistress sold herself to support him financially. It is also said that he at one point tore off the floor boards of his house for heating fuel.
After two years of debility and depression, Yoshitoshi finally recovered and changed his artist name to Taiso ("Great Resurrection"). Around this time he was inspired by Kikuchi Yosai's style. This bestowed him on the skills in depicting historical figures. He was also stimulated by Kobayashi Kiyochika's Western-style prints and set his direction for realism. In the mid-1870's, after Yoshiiku had begun contributing his illustrations to Tokyo Nichinichi Newspaper, Yoshitoshi, too, started designing his for papers. His financial problems were to be solved in 1882 when he was employed by one of the paper companies for good salary. Meanwhile, despite the continuing poverty, Yoshitoshi's creative energy remained undiminished. He produced a number of print series including "Yoshtoshi's Miscellany of Characters from Literature" (or "Ikkai Zuihitsu"), "Forty-eight Aspects of the Harvest Moon" (or " Meigetsu Shiju Hakkei"), and "Comparison of Great Japanese Generals" (or "Dai Nihon Meisho Kurabe". His reputation gradually grew and the number of his students increased. It is said that he had more than 80 students including Mizuno Toshikata, who was to become a great artist himself. His school flourished and he earned a steady income. In 1885, the publication of Yoshitoshi's most popular series - and probably his best ‘’One Hundred Aspects of the Moon" (or "Tsuki Hyakushi") commenced. This series, consisting of 100 prints, were made on a wide variety of subjects: warriors, animal, ghosts, natural phenomena, beautiful woman, etc. Gone was his early tendency for gory, horrifying images. Instead, these 100 images are of lyricism, calmness, spirituality and psychological depth. It also seems that in creating this series he finally achieved his artistic independence from traditional ukiyoe style. In 1888, the series "Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners", (or "Fuzoku Sanju Ni So") was published. This series, consisting of portrayals of women, is where he succeeded in blending his newly acquired style seen in "One Hundred Aspects" with traditional ukiyoe style. In the following year, another great series "New Forms of Thirty-six Apparitions" (or "Shinkei Sanju Rokkai Sen") started to be published. Yoshitoshi claimed  to have seen ghosts and had strong belief in supernatural beings. In this series, these images of apparitions, mostly based on folklores and plays, were depicted powerfully, imaginatively and very beautifully, perhaps in a form of catharsis for the artist. In his last years, Yoshitoshi was again plagued by mental illness but continued to work. Having been discharged as incurable, he did not return home but instead rent rooms, where he died three months later at the age of 53.  

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