Published in 1881, Yoshitoshi’s “A Mirror of Great Achievements” series depicts the notable accomplishments of boys and young men in a chuban-sized format. Whether wrestling with demons or performing feats of amazing strength and skill, these interesting scenes feature expressive figures in attractive settings, with vibrant color and fine bokashi shading. Not much is known about this rarely seen chuban series. There seem to be 9 prints acknowledged by researchers in the series, but it’s possible that there are others waiting to be discovered.
The figure in this piece is Usui no Aratarō Sadamitsu, known as one of the four faithful retainers of Minamoto no Yorimitsu (a regent and warlord of the 11th century). However, the story seems to be more a feature of Kintarō, with whom Minamoto was often associated.
The Woodblock Print
This woodblock is comprised of two book plates, each measuring approximately 4.5″x7″, conjoined to form an image 7″x9.25″. The print has minor edge wear, but retains fully intact margins that are in good condition. The print has lovely color without any discolorations, and no wear within the print or margins. An incredible example of this print from 1881 and a rare find, especially for collectors of Yoshitoshi.
About the Artist
The son of a Tokyo physician, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839 – 1892) is considered one of the last great masters of ukiyo-e. As a young boy he showed remarkable talent and began to study under the renowned Kuniyoshi at the age of 12. He also studied under Yosai and was adopted by the Tsukioka family.
As modernization pushed ahead following the opening of Japan to the West, Yoshitoshi suffered a nervous breakdown in 1872, living in poverty and ceasing all artistic production. He soon resumed working, adopting the artist name Taiso. In 1885, he began one of his most acclaimed series, “100 Views of the Moon”. In the spring of 1892, he suffered his final mental breakdown and was committed to the Sugamo Asylum; he died shortly of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 53.
Yoshitoshi’s prints are known for their eerie and imaginative nature. From ghost stories to folktales, graphic violence to the gentle glow of the moon, Yoshitoshi not only offers compositional and technical brilliance, but also unfettered passion.