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

3 comments

  1. 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. 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.

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