Fujiwara Moronaga was a statesman known for his musical skills. During the turbulent political climate of the 13th century, he was banished from the capital on two occasions: once to the island of Shikoku and once to Owari. Fortunately, his poetic sensibilities enabled him to enjoy views of the moon from such rustic spots. In this print, he plays his biwa, or lute, as the moon peeks under the auburn foliage. An anonymous woman listens to Moronaga’s song. Completely absorbed in his playing, he is unaware of his audience. While the woman’s robes rustle in the breeze, his inner tranquility is reflected in the stillness of the moment. Yet, his unkempt hair reminds the viewer of his exile.
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.