Travel through several periods of Japanese history with the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s examination of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892). More than one hundred works have been selected primarily from the museum’s holdings for Yoshitoshi: Spirit and Spectacle, an exhibit that highlights the museum’s vast collection of the Japanese master’s prints – the largest outside of his native country.
Widely-known as the last great master of the traditional Japanese woodcut and the form’s greatest innovator, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) bridged two eras in Japanese history – Edo and Meiji. The social and political upheaval that characterized 19th century Japan and other external factors that shaped Yoshitoshi’s artistic production can be traced throughout the exhibit.
From his early years in the 1860s following his apprenticeship with the master Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), to his mastery of the woodblock technique, to his last and most productive and successful decade of his life, the exhibit demonstrates the full scope of the artist’s achievement. Known for injecting personality into his work that had not been seen by his predecessors, Yoshitoshi’s pieces on display include colorful and expressive actor prints/portraits, landscapes, tales and legends, and evocative and violent news events that depict moments in Japanese history.
The show culminates in the stunning One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (1885-92). The prized grouping features images of the moon in its many phases with various characters such as warriors, demons, poets and townspeople, drawn from Japanese and Chinese history, folklore, literature and theater. These dynamic prints contributed to Yoshitoshi’s status as the most popular artist in Tokyo at the time of his death, which signaled the end of an era for the genre in Japan.
The museum’s affinity for Japanese art began in 1876, when a traditional Japanese grand display captivated millions of visitors at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, the first official World’s Fair in the United States. The collection grew steadily and by the 1960s, a curator acquired a collector’s lot of over 900 Yoshitoshi prints and the museum now counts more than 1,000 pieces by the artist in its holdings. The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s East Asian Art numbers 9,000 objects in total from China, Japan, Korea and across the region.
Yoshitoshi: Spirit and Spectacle can be seen through August 18 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia. To complement the exhibit, also on view is Philadelphia Collects Meiji with selections from the collections of four 19th-century American collectors who took special interest in Japanese art after the Centennial Exhibition of 1876.
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