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Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892)

Painful: the Appearance of a Prostitute of the Kansei era (1789-1801)

Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: 1888
Size (H x W): 14 x 9.25 (inches)
Publisher: Tsunashima
Seals: Taiso
Signature: Yoshitoshi ga



A precursor to the decorative tattoo in Edo, irebokuro (vow marks) were enormously popular in the Yoshiwara. They began as simple tattooed dots but escalated to names tattooed onto the inner arm. Handkerchief clenched between her teeth, the courtesan turns away from the shimmering needle hovering above her inner arm. Her loose wisps of hair, handkerchief and disheveled kimono suggest that one moment of passion led to another: the application of a vow mark. The hand wielding the needle likely belongs to the courtesan's lover or client, declaring the couple's love, whether purchased or true, by tattooing his name upon her arm.

About the artist

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 nature. 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 woodblock 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.