Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Yoshitoshi’s Strange Tales

a woman protects the nation, by taiso yoshitoshi

The above image fascinates me. It’s from an exhibition of the prints of Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), currently showing at the Asian Art Museum in the city’s civic center.

Yoshitoshi witnessed a period of great transition in Japan, during which the country essentially went from feudalism to modernism. He works out of the ukiyo-e or “floating world” woodblock tradition, but instead of beautiful pictures of actors and courtesans he prefers themes from folklore and history — as well as thinly veiled comments on contemporary events, despite a prohibition against such subjects. He is often associated with the macabre and unsettling (curiously, like his European and American literary contemporaries Baudelaire and Poe), but this dismissive characterization does him a disservice. Besides his sophisticated design skills, he is a master of psychology, often capturing telling moments when stories devolve on some poignant revelation — the moment of seeing in a mirror that a beautiful women is actually a demon, for example.

This work is called “A Woman Saves the Nation.” The figure in the middle is the shogun Tsunayoshi . He has been duped by a conniving minister, Yanagisawa, and is essentially in the grip of a magic spell. On the left is his wife. With a troubled expression she holds the knife with which she will kill the minister and then commit suicide.The large figure on the right is a woman in the emperor’s dream. The pattern of cherry blossoms and cracked ic on her robe has connotations of sex between a young woman and an older man.

The entire work has an extraordinary decorative quality that is almost Klimpt-like. The blockprint colors are unusually bright and saturated. The planes of the composition are staggeringly complex and assured. I think this is an absolutely brilliant work.

Yoshitoshi at the Asian Art Museum

Previous

San Francisco, May 28, 1906

Next

San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

3 Comments

  1. Nancy

    Gorgeous! I can hardly wait to see the show. But I have a question – am I on some sort of notification list of yours? Because you almost always comment when I mention the Asian Museum and it makes me curious.

    namaste! Nancy

  2. tom

    Well, you’re in my list of feeds (along with 197 others, according to Google Reader). I wasn’t aware that I was only posting on the AAM stuff, but I suppose that’s because that’s where I’m most likely to have something to say.

  3. this is a wonderful description of yoshitoshi. i can’t believe we didn’t have this image. it would’ve been awesome for our purposes.

Comments are closed.

Some rights reserved 2017 Tom’s Garden. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via rightreading.com/contact.htm.