L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Looking female - selections from the Fuzoku Sanjuniso (Thirty-Two Aspects of Customs and Manners) print series of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1888

Looking refined - the appearance of a court lady of the Kyōwa era.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (30 April 1839, Edo - 9 June 1892, Tokyo), Japanese artist, widely recognized as the last great master of the ukiyo-e genre of woodblock printing and painting. He is also regarded as one of the form's greatest innovators. His career spanned two eras, the last years of Edo period Japan, and the first years of modern Japan following the Meiji Restoration. While interested in new technologies and cultural influences appearing from the West, over time he became increasingly concerned with the loss of many aspects of traditional Japanese culture, among them traditional woodblock printing.

Looking itchy - the appearance of a kept woman of the Kaei era.
Looking Weighed Down - the appearance of a waitress at Fukagawa in the Tenpō era.
Looking smoky - the appearance of the housewife of the Kyōwa era.
Looking Thirsty - the appearance of a street geisha (bar-girl/sake-server) of the Ansei era.

Born Owariya Yonejiro, the son of a wealthy merchant who had bought his way into the samurai class, by the age of five he was taking art lessons. At eleven he was apprenticed to Kuniyoshi, one of the great masters of the Japanese woodblock print. Kuniyoshi gave his apprentice the new artist's name "Yoshitoshi", denoting lineage in the Utagawa School. Yoshitoshi's first print appeared in 1853, but his work didn't begin to garner attention until the 1860s. Much of his prints from that time are depictions of graphic violence and death, themes which were partly inspired by the death of his father in 1863 and by the lawlessness and violence of the Japan surrounding him, which was simultaneously experiencing the breakdown of the feudal system imposed by the Tokugawa shogunate, as well as the effect of contact with Westerners.

Looking disagreeable - the appearance of a young lady from Nagoya during the Ansei era.
Looking capable - the appearance of a Kyoto waitress of the Meiji era.
Looking chilly - the appearance of a concubine of the Bunka era.
Looking tasty - the appearance of a courtesan during the Kaei era.
Looking hot - the appearance of a housewife in the Bunsei era.

He became very famous, and by the end of the decade was regarded as one of the finest woodblock artists in Japan. Paradoxically, just at his career's peak, tastes changed and his commissions evaporated. He became severely depressed, and his personal life became one of great turmoil, which was to continue sporadically until his death. He lived in appalling conditions with his devoted mistress, Okoto, who sold off her clothes and possessions to support him. At one point they were reduced to burning the floor-boards from the house for warmth. It is said that in 1872 he suffered a complete mental breakdown. By the next year he was producing new work, but his financial condition was still precarious and in 1876 his mistress Okoto, in a gesture of devotion, sold herself to a brothel to help him.

Looking tiresome  - the appearance of a virgin of the Kansei era.
Looking warm - the appearance of an urban widow of the Kansei era.
Looking cold - the appearance of a Fukagawa Nakamichi geisha of the Tenpō era.
Looking relaxed - the appearance of a Kyoto geisha of the Kansei era.

The following year, his fortunes slowly beginning to turn, he took up with a new mistress, the geisha Oraku - like Okoto, she would sell her clothes and possessions to support him, and when they separated after a year, she too hired herself out to a brothel - but it was not until the next decade that he was financially secure. In 1880, he met another woman, a former geisha with two children, Sakamaki Taiko. They were married in 1884, and while he was unfaithful, her gentle and patient temperament seems to have brought some stability to his life.

Looking shy - the appearance of a young girl of the Meiji era.
Looking feminine - the appearance of a "castle-toppler" of the Tenpō era.
Looking suitable - the appearance of a brothel geisha of the Kōka era.
Looking eager to meet someone - the appearance of a courtesan of the Kaei era.
Looking as if she is enjoying herself - the appearance of a teacher of the Kaei era.

By the middle of the 1880s the woodblock industry was in severe decline. All the great woodblock artists of the early part of the century - Hiroshige, Kunisada, Kuniyoshi - had died decades earlier, and the woodblock print as an art form was dying out in the confusion of a modernizing Japan. But Yoshitoshi's last years were among his most productive; still insisting on the highest standards of production, he did what he could to help save the industry - however temporarily - from degeneracy. He also became a master teacher and had several notable pupils.

Looking as if someone is about to arrive - the appearance of a fireman's wife in the Kaei era.
Looking drowsy - the appearance of a courtesan of the Meiji era.
Looking in pain - the appearance of a prostitute of the Kansei era.
Looking amused - the appearance of a high-ranking maid of the Bunsei era.

But in the last two years of his life his mental problems began to recur. His physical condition also deteriorated, and his misfortune was compounded when all of his money was stolen in a robbery of his home. After increasingly alarming symptoms, he was admitted to a mental hospital. He eventually left, in May of 1892, but did not return home. Instead, he went to live in rented rooms, where he died three weeks later of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of fifty-three.

Looking inquisitive - the appearance of a maid of the Tenpō era.


Adapted from Bonhams' auction notes:

Fuzoku sanjuniso (Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners or Daily Life) is a series of thirty-three oban tate-e, comprising a contents page and thirty-two half-length portraits of beauties from the Kansei (1789-1801) through early Meiji (1868-1912) eras, published by Tsunashima Kamekichi in 1881.

Fuzoku sanjuniso is among the most highly prized of Yoshitoshi’s print series. Published late in his career, it represents a retreat from the violence and brutality that marked some of his youthful depictions of women. The series’ half-length portraits represent female subjects across the gamut of contemporary social classes and occupations. In tri-colored cartouches, Yoshitoshi identifies the women in three ways: first as types, then by date, and finally by class. A typical example reads: urusaso kansei nenkan shojo no fuzoku (Looking tiresome: the appearance of a virgin of the Kansei era).

In writing about the
Fuzoku sanjuniso John Stevenson describes their subjects as “something of a catalogue of women’s daily occupations in the late Edo period.” Indeed, the artist includes a variety of prosaic, everyday moments: the woman who fans a fire, squinting her eyes to avoid the smoke, or the prostitute shown about to consume a fried shrimp. Although Yoshitoshi’s subjects are occasionally shown at the mercy of a painful treatment, such as tattooing or moxibustion [a traditional Asian therapy which consists of burning dried mugwort on particular points on the body], most of the women appear quite relaxed, as if awaiting a lover, attending to one, or at least open to the possibility of such an encounter. Mildly erotic overtones are generated through suggestive glances, a glimpse of bared breasts or arms, or seductive poses, often tempered by a tasteful allusion to the season or time of day. Several of the designs, blending informal poses with a pervasive sensual languor, reflect Yoshitoshi’s debt to his famous Kansei era predecessor, Utamaro.

In an unusual move, the publisher, Tsunashima Kamekichi, endorsed the series by adding his personal seal to the contents page. An array of expensive printing techniques was employed throughout the series, setting it apart as a luxury production. Flawless carving was a necessity in light of the elaborately patterned robes and fabrics designed by Yoshitoshi, but the prints were made even more sumptuous through the use of
itame mokuhan (imitation woodgrain) for the title cartouches, the extensive use of gauffrage or blind-printing, delicate touches of bokashi (shading), and burnishing (metal filings are found in some prints from the first edition.) The combination of such luxurious and highly detailed printing with Yoshitoshi’s bold and imaginative designs attest to the continued vitality of the print tradition well into the Meiji period. 

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