Tsukioka (aka Taiso) Yoshitoshi
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi was born in 1839, under the given name of Yonejiro. Not much is known about his youth, but indications are that it was not very pleasant. At the age of eleven, Yoshitoshi began studying at the school of Kuniyoshi, the great ukiyo-e artist. When he was only fourteen, Yoshitoshi produced his first woodblock print-a triptych of the naval battle of Dannoura in 1185. When Yoshitoshi’s teacher died in 1861, the student was given hardly enough commissions to survive.
The 1860s were difficult years, rife with political instability, a devastated economy, hyper inflation and crop failures. In 1868, Yoshitoshi was witness to a bloody battle between the troops of the last Shogun and the Imperial soldiers. Afterwards, Yoshitoshi produced many prints featuring bloody and gruesome scenes, often with black backgrounds. These prints have a direct connection with the tumultuous events that took place during those years of upheaval.
During the Meiji Restoration, Yoshitoshi enjoyed a brief period of commercial success that was, unfortunately, followed by poverty due to a sharp decline in commissions. In the early 1870s, he began suffering from severe mental illness and depression and was unable to work, producing almost no prints for the next two years. He recovered from his depression in 1873 and changed his name to Taiso, meaning “Great Resurrection”. In spite of his efforts, his poverty continued until 1877, when political events brought another change to his life. Due to an uprising of the samurai class, there was another bloody battle between the samurai warriors and the Imperial troops. In the aftermath, there was enormous demand for illustrations of the events and Yoshitoshi was flooded with commissions.
By the 1880s, Yoshitoshi was, once again, financially stable. He bought a spacious home and married, and by 1882, he was employed by a newspaper, giving him a steady income and ending his years of poverty. While Yoshitoshi’s reputation grew, his health failed, but he continued to produce an astonishing number of prints, in fact, these years proved to be his most prolific, in terms of quality and quantity. Yoshitoshi died in 1892 at the age of 53.