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Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892)

The Moon's Four Strings: Semimaru

Series: 100 Views of the Moon
Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: 1891
Size (H x W): 14.5 x 9.5 (inches)
Publisher: Akiyama Buemon
Seals: Yoshitoshi
Signature: Yoshitoshi
Conditon: Very fine color and impression, light original album backing, embellished with embossing.

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Description

Semimaru was a blind poet and musician of the 10th century who was banished to a small cottage near Osaka. Though his life story has several versions, Yoshitoshi does not indicate a particular telling of Semimaru’s life in this print. The musician strums his lute with a plectrum, head cocked in concentration. The moonlight reveals his thinning hair and the dilapidated state of his cottage, but these things do not concern him. His sole companion is his beloved lute, on which he plays melodies of indescribable sweetness, whose okugi, or inner mystery, he alone possesses. 

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 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.