Utagawa Yoshitaki (歌川芳滝) (artist 1841 – 1899)Handenshakyo (go - 版田舎居)
Hōgyoku (go - 豊玉)
Ichiyōsai (go - 一養齋)
Ichiyōtei (go - 一養亭)
Ittensai (go - 一点斎)
Jueidō (go - 寿栄堂)
Nakai (original family name - 中井)
Noriya (go - 糊家)
Satonoya (go - 里の家)
Tsunejirō (nickname - 恒次郎)
Yōsui (go - 養水)
Yoshitaki was born Nakai Tsunejirō (Kojirō) 中井恒次郎 in Shimizucho in Osaka in 1841 as the eldest son of Nakai Genbei 中井源兵衛, a paste merchant. From age 12 to 15, Yoshitaki was a student of Nakajima Yoshiume 中島芳梅 (1819-1879), who had studied under Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861). His earliest prints were published when he had barely entered his teens. In 1855 he left Yoshiume to be an independent artist. For a period of twenty years, Yoshitaki was the most prolific of Osaka print artists, producing more than 1,200 designs, nearly all yakusha-e (actor pictures.) In 1880, [sic] he moved to Kyoto and in 1885 he moved to Sakai where he died in 1889 [sic - most sources give his death as 1899]. He is buried at Nanshū-ji on Ryukozan in Sakai.
In addition to creating woodblock prints of actors and of landscapes, Yoshitaki using the artist names Sasaki Yoshitaki 笹木芳瀧 (starting in 1875) and Nakai Yoshitaki 中井芳瀧, created (wrote and illustrated) specialized woodblock prints called nishki-e shinbun for several Osaka newspapers including the Osaka nishikiga shinbun, Osaka nishikie shinwa, Kanzen choaku nishikiga shinbun, and Shinbun zue. Yoshitaki also remained active as a painter, exhibiting both in Japan and internationally, winning bronze medals at the first two Naikoku Kaiga Kyoshin Kai (National Paintings Fair) in 1882 and 1884 and a meritorious mention at the fourth Naikoku Kangyo Hakurankai (National Expo for the Promotion of Industry.) As with many woodblock artists he also worked as a commerical artist, creating theater billboards and illustrations for a sake company.
His own students included Goto Yoshikage (1894-1892), Kawasaki Kyosen (1877-1942), and Sasaki Yotsimitsu (his younger brother). The artist’s son-in-law, Kawasaki Kyosen, wrote an article on his father’s practice as a designer of actor prints in Osaka titled How Color Prints are Made that provides a first hand account of the production of actor prints in Osaka during the early Meiji period.
Sources: A Dictionary of Japanese Artists: Painting, Sculpture, Ceramics, Prints, Lacquer, Laurance P. Roberts, Weatherhill, 1976, p. 203, William Wetherall's News Nishiki website; The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Woodblock Prints, Amy Reigle Newland, Hotei Publishing Company, 2005, p. 445; The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints, Roger S. Keyes and Keiko Mizushima, David R. Godine in association with Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, p.255; "A Look at Some Original Paintings by Yoshitaki: Development From the Late Edo Period to the Meiji Period," Yamamoto Sumiko, an online article in Aesthetics No. 13, 2009, Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum, Osaka.
According to Yamamoto Sumiko Yoshitaki did not like the quality of his portraits and supposedly said that the low standards were probably due to the fact that the "...quality of the [woodblock] works in the Meiji era is obviously lower than that of the Edo period, probably due to overproduction..." And yet his painted portraits were highly esteemed.
Kawasaki Kyosen, a toy painter who was taught by Yoshitaki, wrote a biography of his teacher. After moving to Sakai "...Yoshitaki made a picture scroll illustrating sake brewing at the request from breweries. He also painted on a sake barrel to be dedicated at the Matsuo Shrine in Kyoto, a deity of sake."
Kyosen tells us that Yoshitaki was terribly impressed by the large paintings of Jakuchū at the Shōkoku-ji. Sumiko says that Yoshitaki "...favored producing detailed and rich-colored genre pictures in the style of Jakuchū. He also copied a painting of a ghost by Maruyama Ōkyo." Kyosen had married Yoshitaki's daughter, Hamako, and therefore his comments are considered reliable.
Yoshitaki first woodblock print appeared in 1854. According to Kyosen Yoshitaki gave up printmaking for painting exclusively in 1880.