Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: Thirty-Two Aspects of Women

May 12 – September 2, 2007

Ledger and Murray Galleries

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) is considered to be the last and greatest genius of ukiyo-e. The Polk Museum of Art is fortunate to have the entire collection of one of his most revered series of prints, Thirty Two Aspects of Women. Yoshitoshi was born shortly before the Meiji era began in Japan, a time of modernization and increased contact with European nations and the United States. He addressed this western influence by attempting to prevent the loss of Japanese traditions. Much of his work served as reminders to the Japanese people of the importance of their historical and cultural heritage.

Demand for woodblock prints began to fade in 1880 as the old masters began to die and photography and lithography were replacing the traditional methods of creating images. In response, Yoshitoshi turned increasingly to traditional subjects that were recreated using the highest possible standard of production. Yet he admired much of the compositional structure of western art, particularly its ability to depict movement, and he abandoned the traditional vegetable dyes in favor of new and brighter aniline dyes.

His combination of traditional Japanese subject matter with western techniques led to Yoshitoshi’s most popular work. By 1884 he employed more than eighty apprentices, enabling him to try ambitious projects. In 1888 he completed Thirty Two Aspects of Women, revealing his renowned capacity for portraying the complexity of women rather than portraying them as mere objects for the male gaze. Unfortunately, shortly after completing Thirty Two Aspects of Women, Yoshitoshi became ill. In 1891 he was admitted to a mental hospital, but left in the spring of 1892. Yoshitoshi died in June 1892. With his death, the art of ukiyo-e all but ended.