Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (月岡芳年) (artist 04/30/1839 – 06/09/1892)

Gyokuō ( - 玉桜)
Gyokuōrō ( - 玉桜楼)
Ikkaisai ( - 一魁斎)
Kaisai ( - 魁斎)
Ōju ( - 応需)
Sokatei ( - 咀華亭)
Taiso (family name after 1873 - 大蘇)
Yonejirō (nickname - 米次郎)
Yoshioka (family name - 吉岡)
Ikkai Yoshitoshi (魁斎芳年)
Kaisai Yoshitoshi (魁斎芳年)
Taiso Yoshitoshi (大蘇 芳年)




"Yoshitoshi's biography remains extremely sketchy and is largely based on dubitable reminiscences that were serialised in fourteen instalments and published in 1930/31 in the journal Ukiyo-e shi (Ukiyo-e masters). They were written by Yamanaka Kodō (1869-1945), who studied briefly with Yoshitoshi in the 1880s. Past writers on Yoshitoshi frequently remind us that Kodō's writings are not necessarily reliable, but with no other sources at hand his at times rambling anecdotes are quoted as truth. It is as if the paradox presented by 'the beauty and the violence' in Yoshitoshi's work required explanations drawn from assumptions about the artist's psyche, and that the natural place to look for such answers would be in his personality. I steer away from such discussions in this essay. It is not my intention to examine the inner workings of Yoshitoshi's mind, nor to interpret his art based on unsubstantiated assumptions. Thus, I will not speculate whether his character was violent or not, what his attitude towards women or his sexual interests were, the truth about his mental illness or his personal rivalries, and the consequences of these personal factors in the choices he made regarding commissions from publishers.

This analyses instead springs from the premise that the ukiyo-e print designer was an indispensable link within a mechanism of production that was initiated by the publisher, who in turn was driven by market forces. The process of print production began with the publisher interpreting the current fashions and interests of consumers, as well as gauging the commercial climate. He would then commission a design of a print or series of prints from an artist whose work he felt would deliver the maximum commercial return. The publisher would closely monitor the popularity of individual artists, keep a close eye on the sales of their work and on their movement 'up and down the charts'. The depth of the publisher's insight into the market can therefore be determined by the success of certain designs and series. Unfortunately, primary or contemporary sources detailing the popularity of a print or print series are rare - a notable exception is Yoshitoshi's set One hundred aspects of the moon...

There is however, compelling secondary evidence regarding the success or failure of a single-sheet print or serial work. The existence of poorly printed examples from worn blocks can only be explained by the repeated re-issue of a design for an insatiable market. The re-publication of prints following the sale of a set of blocks to another publisher can also be considered a mark of commercial viability. Conversely, when a publisher commissioned an artist to design a series, such as Yoshitoshi's Eight recent battle (Kinsei hassensō, 1871) of which only one sheet is currently known, it is highly probably that the series was discontinued because it was not a hit with the print-buying public. Like book publisher today, the main concern of ukiyo-e publishers was a return on investments. The cost of paper, colorants, blocks, and the outlay for the blockcutters and printers, as well as artists' fees, all needed to be recouped before turning a profit."

Publishers used various methods to promote sales: advertising, creating series hoping the collectors would want to purchase the entire set, subscriptions, etc. "This is not to say that the ukiyo-e print designer's role was simply to carry out the assignments given to him by his publishers. As demonstrated in the essay by Amy Reigle Newland, Yoshitoshi gradually moved up through the charts and eventually ranked as the top print designer of the Meiji period (1868-1912). This was not solely based on the commercial success and cachet that the 'Yoshitoshi' name brought to publishers. There can be no doubt that Yoshitoshi's individualistic artistic expression broke the mould, introducing innovations to staid compositional conventions in works that seduced the print-buying public."

The above section is quoted from the introductory essay by Chris Uhlenbeck in Yoshitoshi: Masterpieces from the Ed Freis collection, 2011, pp. 8-9.


"Family name Tsukioka; common name Yonejirō. Later adopted by his cousin Kyōya Shikisaburō. Finally succeeded to the art surname Tsukioka from Tsukioka Sessai. Gyōkuō, Gyokuōrō, Kasai,Ikkaisai, Taiso (from 1873), Sokatei (according to Ukiyo-eshi den). Residences as follows: Nakabashi (1865); Tachibana-chō nichōme (1866); Oke-chō, then Hiyoshi-chō (early years of Meiji era, 1868-1912); Minami Kinroku-chō (1876); Nezu Miyanaga-chō (1883); Asakusa Suga-chō (1885); temporary lodgings at Honjo Fujishiro-chō in his last years (these dates given by Suzuki Jūzō in GUDHJ, vol. 2, (1982), p. 103). Pupil of Utagawa Kuniyoshi; also studied the style of Kikuchi Yōsai.

Yoshitoshi is said to have entered Kuniyoshi's studio in 1850, and his earliest work appears to be a triptych of Heike Warriors Falling into the Sea published in 1853. In the last years of the Edo period many prints of warriors, beauties and actors; some notable works in the sadistic, blood-drenched taste then prevalent. During the 1872-3 suffered from a mental illness which would trouble him again in his last years. From c. 1873 influenced by the style of Kikuchi Yōsai, combining this with elements derived from European art into a personal idiom, illustrating mainly historical subjects. From 1874 illustrations for colour woodblock 'newspapers' and an ever-increasing number of illustrations for novels. Major print series include Shinsen azuma nishiki-e (1885-6), Fūzoku sanjūni-sō (1888) and Tsuki hyakushi (1885-91), as well as vertical diptychs of historical subjects in a strong, dynamic style full of fantasy and invention.

Yoshitoshi's preparatory drawings, of which the British Museum has recently acquired a group of fifty-two... demonstrate this strength and power of invention vividly: ideas are first sketched in in red ink and then the final, more definite outlines for the woodblock print drawn over this in black, much in the same manner as Kuniyoshi, though with a highly individual nervous and energetic line."

Quoted from: Ukiyo-e Paintings in the British Museum by Timothy Clark, p. 222.