Fujiwara no Yasumasa (958-1036) was a renowned musician and poet in the Heian court. One autumn night Yasumasa made his way home through the isolated Ichiharano moor. He played his flute as he sauntered along. While he believed that he was alone amidst the tall grass, a bandit lay in wait. The highwayman, Hakamadare Yasusuke (also known as Kidomaru) planned to attack the lonely traveler and steal his elegant winter robes. Yet, as the music reached Yasusuke’s ears, he found himself unable to attack. He became enchanted by the beauty of the music and followed Yasumasa all the way home. Upon reaching the courtier’s home, the flutist noticed his unintended audience and offered Yasusuke a fine gift of clothing so that he would not leave empty-handed.
Yoshitoshi captures the moment of enchantment in his interpretation of this famous story. Yasumasa’s sleeves ripple in the wind, his lips gently press to the flute, and his mind is entirely lost in his song. He seems unaware of the impending attacker crouched behind him. As Yasusuke curls his fingers around the handle of the sword, an act of violence seems imminent. This composition continues to enchant collectors worldwide.
Other impressions of this print can be found in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Ritsumeikan University and Waseda University Theatre Museum.
The son of a Tokyo physician, Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (né Kinzaburo Yoshioka) is considered one of the last great masters of ukiyo-e art. 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.