The poet Fujiwara Kinto (966-1041) was an accomplished member of the Heian court. He compiled Wakan Roeishu, a popular collection of Chinese and Japanese poetry, and drew up the list of 36 Immortal Poets of Japan. In this print, Yoshitoshi illustrates a poem by Kinto, a peaceful nature scene characteristic to his poetic style: “By the light of the moon / On a whitely shining night/ I part the snowdrifts/ And break off plum blossoms.” Kinto stands in the fresh fallen snow in the courtyard of the Imperial palace. The flowers that inspired his verse catch the moonlight on their delicate petals. The direct contrast of Kinto’s heavy black robes and the crisp white of the snow creates an intense sense of drama in this hushed ode to nature.
The son of a Tokyo physician, Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (né Kinzaburo Yoshioka) is considered one of the last great masters of ukiyo-e. As a young boy he showed remarkable talent and began to study under the renowned Kuniyoshi at the age of 12. Yoshitoshi also studied under Yosai and was adopted by the Tsukioka family.
As modernization pushed ahead, Yoshitoshi suffered a nervous breakdown in 1872, living in poverty and ceasing all artistic production. A year later, he resumed working; adopting the artist name Taiso and fulfilling his creative potential. In 1885, he began one of his most acclaimed series, 100 Views of the Moon. In the spring of 1892, he suffered his final mental breakdown and was committed to the Sugamo Asylum. On the 9th of June 1892, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 53.
Yoshitoshi’s prints are known for their eerie and imaginative component. He worked in a Japan undergoing rapid change, straddling the domains of the old, feudal systems and the new, modern world. His considerable imagination and originality imbued his prints with a sensitivity and honesty rarely seen in ukiyo-e of this time period. From ghost stories to folktales, graphic violence to the gentle glow of the moon, Yoshitoshi not only offers compositional and technical brilliance, but also unfettered passion.