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Scholten Japanese Art Gallery
Scholten Japanese Art presents

YOSHITOSHI

New York Asia Week, March 9 –18, 2017, 11 am – 5 pm
otherwise by appointment through March 31st.

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Scholten Japanese Art is pleased to participate in Asia Week New York 2017 with YOSHITOSHI, a single-artist exhibition focused on the work of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), one of the last great ukiyo-e artists of the 19th century.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a full-color catalogue of 138 pages with 125 entries illustrating 180 woodblock prints. The online exhibition will feature the same images and information as found in the catalogue, and the gallery will display approximately 40 works on view. It will feature woodblock prints spanning the breadth of Yoshitoshi's productive life, from rare early compositions to the well-remembered masterworks of his late-career renaissance, many of which remain some of the best remembered in all of ukiyo-e. The catalogue will track his development from indebtedness to artistic forbearers to the unprecedented stylistic paths he forged in the rapidly shifting market of the early Meiji Period (1868-1912).

Yoshitoshi came of age at a time of great turmoil in Japan as it was exposed to foreign influence for the first time in well over 200 years, prompting a period of regime change and rapid modernization. He was the student of one of the major print artists of the 19th century, Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861). Quickly winning his teacher's support at the age of only fourteen, Yoshitoshi's first full-sized print was published in the 6th lunar month of 1853, which began on July 6th when converted to the Gregorian calendar. That same month, on July 8th, the American Commodore Matthew C. Perry (1794-1858) arrived in Edo Bay, flexing his 'gunboat diplomacy' and effectively opening Japan up to trade with the west, initiating a chain of events which would eventually lead to the downfall of shogun military rule and the 'Restoration' of the Emperor in 1868.

In his early twenties, Yoshitoshi tended to produce work that followed in the footsteps of Kuniyoshi, who specialized in heroic warrior subjects. One such example is a print portraying the 14th century warrior Sagiike Heikuro from the 1865 series One Hundred Tales of China and Japan (14 1/4 by 9 3/4 in., 36.3 by 24.9 cm). The legendary hero Heikuro sits calmly on a rocky outcrop over swirling water which barely conceals a menacing serpent. He turns away, as if unaware, but in actuality is but a moment from striking the beast with his bare fists and wrenching it in two. Heikuro is depicted in the rippling-muscled style of his teacher, and set against a colorful and dynamic background. The print is an unusually crisp impression with fresh colors. When Yoshitoshi designed this series he was still relatively young, only twenty-six, and not well-established on the market, As such, not as many prints were made at the time and designs of this period, including this one, can be quite scarce.

Yoshitoshi's portrayals of the past, however, were often connected to the bloody tumult of his present day. The arrival of American war ships in Edo Bay initiated what would become two decades of political violence, the first of its kind in Japan since the 16th century. Until 1868, Japan was ruled by a military dictatorship that censored depictions of ongoing conflicts. As a result, portrayals of the battles required subversion. One such example is a rare six panel published as two separate triptychs in 1866 and 1867, respectively: the Picture of the Great Battle of Kawanakajima and the Picture of the Bloody Battle of the Brave Generals of the Takeda Clan (14 1/8 by 59 3/4 in., 35.8 by 151.9 cm). The titles of the print refer to a 16th century battle, and the foregrounded warriors are dressed in full medieval regalia. However, the soldiers hidden behind abstracted gun shots and cannon smoke lie prone with the helmets, uniforms, and gear of 1860s Japanese infantrymen. The print is both a dynamic design and an important historical document that reflects the politics of Yoshitoshi's time.

Both the artistic and political norms, however, would soon change rapidly. The military dictatorship was overthrown, and replaced by a new, westernizing regime that lifted restrictions on representing current events. During the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, an uprising of marginalized samurai, Yoshitoshi documented the battles, heroes, and villains of the conflict in real time. An unusual board game, published in 1877, let players move around a board depicting twenty rebel samurai in the role of the leader of government forces, Prince Arisugawa Taruhito (1825-1883), who is portrayed kneeling before the Emperor in the central panel (six joined oban sheets 30 7/8 by 29 1/8 in., 78.5 by 74.1 cm). Traditionally played on New Year's and beloved by children, the popularity of such games led to their destruction—intact boards are scarce, and as such, there are few recorded.

Whereas woodblock printmaking was the dominant source of imagery for popular culture previously, with the sudden arrival of foreign artistic techniques including lithography and photography, traditional methods were would soon be passé. Yoshitoshi managed to survive, and thrive, in the waning years of woodblock print production by capturing his audience's imagination with innovative compositions exploring traditional Japanese sources including epic tales, historical legends and supernatural subjects.

Yoshitoshi's masterwork, and one of the most memorable designs in all of ukiyo-e, is popularly known as 'The Flute Player Triptych,' produced in 1883 by the relatively new publisher Akiyama Buemon (active 1882-1920s). Fully-titled The Painting 'Fujiwara Yasumasa Plays the Flute by Moonlight' Displayed at the Exhibition for the Promotion of Painting in Autumn 1882 (14 5/8 by 29 1/2 in., 37.3 by 75 cm), the design was inspired by a painting Yoshitoshi submitted to the first government Exhibition for the Advancement of National Painting in 1882. Buemon spotted the painting at the exhibition and commissioned Yoshitoshi to adapt it to the woodblock print format. It was released the following year and set the publisher on what would be a remarkably successful career while firmly establishing Yoshitoshi's place as the preeminent ukiyo-e artist of his time.

The collaboration between Buemon and Yoshitoshi would lead to the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon. The series was published late in the artist's career, between 1885 and his death in 1892. It depicts one hundred iconic subjects from Japanese history and folklore, tied together through the motif of the moon. The extraordinary success of the series, at a time when woodblock print production was not robust, linked the image of the moon with Yoshitoshi in popular culture, an association he seems to have embraced through his death poem published on his memorial portrait just days after his passing:

Holding the night at bay
having outshone all the rest
is the summer moon.


One example from the series is Moon and Smoke, published in 1886 (13 7/8 by 9 1/2 in., 35.2 by 24.1 cm). In lieu of a storied figure of the past, the print depicts a legendary hero of the present: a fireman of Tokyo (renamed from Edo in 1868) staring down a roaring conflagration. In a city built primarily of wood and paper, these brave men fought frequent, fast-moving fires. In the foreground, a standard bearer is dressed in the water-soaked coat that protected him from the fierce flames, while the silhouette of another standard bearer, perhaps from a rival company, is visible through the murky smoke. The moon is a subtle ring behind the burnt orange that consumes the composition.

Though he is remembered for his pictures of heroes and conflict, Yoshitoshi was also a master-designer of beauties, whose compositions provided a bridge between traditional bijin prints and the 20th century women of shin hanga (lit. 'new print'- a genre that took hold from ca. 1915). Yoshitoshi's most sophisticated beauty series, Thirty-Two Aspects of Customs and Manners, released in its entirety in 1888, portrays women of all social classes from various eras (almost half of them are the type of woman whose company he typically kept—geisha and prostitutes). These women of the present and not-too-distant past are depicted in the midst of everyday activities, alternatively in the full regalia of public life and the private deshabillé of their most intimate moments. The series is also notable for its craftsmanship: on the part of Yoshitoshi as the designer, the carvers whose blocks captured the textures of the materials and the sheen of the hair, and the printers who deftly handled the pigments, gradation of color, and embossing. The print Drowsy, The Appearance of a Harlot of The Meiji Era (14 3/4 by 10 1/8 in., 37.5 by 25.6 cm) captures all such aspects. The tipsy subject's coiffed hair is captured with hundreds of perfectly distributed lines. She reclines, with eyes half closed and a coy smile that suggests this working girl is ready for a well-earned respite. Yoshitoshi's signature is seamlessly integrated into the design, camouflaged within a floral screen.

The gallery exhibition will open on Thursday, March 9th, and continue through Saturday, March 18th, and an online exhibition will be posted in advance of the opening at www.scholten-japanese-art.com. Scholten Japanese Art, located at 145 West 58th Street, Suite 6D, is open Monday through Friday, and some Saturdays, 11am - 5pm, by appointment. To schedule an appointment please call (212) 585-0474.

We are pleased to be participating in the schedule of events organized by Asia Week New York including the open house weekend on Saturday, March 11th and Sunday, March 12th, 11 — 5 pm.