|Sakuma Daigaku drinking blood from a severed head (1868)|
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839 – 1892) was a Japanese artist. He is widely recognized as the last great master of Ukiyo-e, a type of Japanese woodblock printing.
Many of Yoshitoshi's prints of the 1860s are depictions of graphic violence and death. These themes were partly inspired by the death of Yoshitoshi's father in 1863 and by the lawlessness and violence of the Japan surrounding him. In late 1863, Yoshitoshi began making violent sketches, eventually incorporated into battle prints designed in a bloody and extravagant style.
The public enjoyed these prints and Yoshitoshi began to move up in the ranks of ukiyo-e artists in Edo. With the country at war, Yoshitoshi’s images allowed those who were not directly involved in the fighting to experience it vicariously through his designs. The public was attracted to Yoshitoshi’s work not only for his superior composition and draftsmanship, but also his passion and intense involvement with his subject matter. Besides the demands of woodblock print publishers and consumers, Yoshitoshi was also trying to exorcise the demons of horror that he and his fellow countrymen were experiencing.
As he gained notoriety, Yoshitoshi was able to have ninety-five more of his designs published in 1865, mostly on military and historical subjects.
|"Seiriki Tamigorō committing suicide" from Kinsei kyōgiden series (1865)|
Between 1866 and 1868 Yoshitoshi created some extremely disturbing images, notably in the series “Twenty-eight famous murders with verse”. These prints show killings in very graphic detail, such as decapitations of women with bloody handprints on their robes.It is said that Yoshitoshi's work of the "bloody" period has had an impact on writers such as Jun'ichirō Tanizaki (1886–1965) as well as artists including Tadanori Yokoo and Masami Teraoka.
Although Yoshitoshi made a name for himself in this manner, the "bloody" prints represent only a small portion of his work. They tend to be over-emphasized by critics, which has led to an inaccurate perception that overlooks the true variety, subtlety and insight of Yoshitoshi’s art. That is completely true, his vast work is an hymn to beauty of women, nature and Japanese landscapes with vivid colors and emotions.
All the rest is from “Twenty-eight famous murders with verse” (Muzan-e), which is a collection of Japanese ukiyo-e, which depicted several gruesome acts of murder or torture based on historical events or scenes in Kabuki plays. Although most of the works are solely violent by nature, it is perhaps the first known example of ero guro or the erotic grotesque in Japanese culture, an art sub-genre which depicts either erotic or extreme images of violence and mutilation. The Muzan-e has influenced many modern day art formats and ero guro can be found in manga with the works of Suehiro Maruo, Shintaro Kago, Kazuichi Hanawa or Toshio Maeda; in many live action films such as the pink film movement and most of the works of director Takashi Miike and even non-Japanese artists such as Trevor Brown. The works were said to spread a general panic amongst the populace at the time of publishing, with the extreme violence depicted in the paintings taken as a sign of social and moral decline.
Photos were taken from HERE and the complete collection of the 28 prints is found HERE.