Cao Cao (in Japanese, So So) is a prominent figure in the semi-historical Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which describes the civil wars of 3rd century China. Although Cao Cao is cast as the villain of the tale, he is as brave and intrepid as any of the heroes. The night before the famous Battle of the Red Cliffs, Cao Cao was in a boat on the Yangzi River. Two crows flew by, an evil omen, but he composed a defiant poem and continued to give orders to his officers for the doomed battle. Yoshitoshi presents this antihero on the eve of his downfall. Though defeat waits beyond the dark cliffs, Cao Cao stands tall with his spear in hand.
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.