From the little-known and little-cataloged series ‘A Theater Alphabet of True Forms (Makoto no katachi gekijō iroha awase)’, published in 1869.
Yoshitoshi designed this series in collaboration with Utagawa Kunichika. Yoshitoshi used western-style techniques in creating the images of ronin at the tops of the prints, reminiscent of the “100 warriors” series. Kunichika used a more classical style in the design of the kabuki actors at bottom. This series is very poorly documented, and the total number of prints in the series is unknown.
The Woodblock Print
This oban-sized woodblock in very fine to excellent condition for the age and compared to the few examples from this series that exist. The print has minor edge wear with minimal margins, but unknown how it was originally printed and whether it is supposed to have margins. Not backed. The print has lovely color with only minor discolorations, and no wear or holes within the print. An incredible example of this print from 1869 and an especially rare find, especially for collectors of Yoshitoshi.
About the Artist
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (芳年, April 30, 1839 – June 9, 1892) was a Japanese ukiyo-e artist who is widely regarded as one of the last great masters of the traditional woodblock print. He is known for his dynamic and vivid depictions of historical and supernatural subjects, often featuring intense and dramatic compositions.
Yoshitoshi was born in Edo (modern-day Tokyo), Japan, in 1839. He was the son of a samurai, and he began his artistic training as a student of the ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi at a young age. He also studied under other prominent ukiyo-e artists, including Utagawa Kunisada and Toyokuni III. Yoshitoshi’s early works were characterized by a lively and expressive style, featuring scenes from Japanese folklore, theater, and history.
In the 1860s, Yoshitoshi entered a period of artistic maturity, during which he created some of his most iconic works. His prints during this period often featured vivid and dramatic images of ghosts, demons, and historical figures. Yoshitoshi was also known for his innovative use of color, which he used to heighten the emotional impact of his works. His mature works were highly regarded for their technical mastery and artistic vision.
Despite his artistic success, Yoshitoshi faced personal struggles throughout his life. He suffered from depression and anxiety, which were exacerbated by the death of his wife and the decline of the ukiyo-e industry. His mental health struggles are reflected in some of his works, which feature dark and disturbing subject matter. However, his artistic output remained prolific throughout his life.
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. In the 1880s, Yoshitoshi suffered a breakdown and spent some time in a mental institution. He returned to work after his release, 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: Masterpieces from the Ed Freis Collection” by Chris Uhlenbeck and Amy Reigle Newland
- “Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon” by John Stevenson
- “Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: A Selection of One Hundred Prints from One Hundred Aspects of the Moon” by Jack Hunter