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Utamaro print showing


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YOSHIDA Hiroshi (吉田博)


Yoshida Hiroshi (吉田博) learned Western-style painting in the 1890s. By 1899 he had already visited the United States and Europe and was selling watercolors to western buyers. In 1920-21 he designed eight prints for the publisher Watanabe, but the great Kantô earthquake of 1923 destroyed the blocks and prints in Watanabe's studio. Yoshida traveled again to the United States in 1923-24, and then resumed printmaking in 1925 as an independent artist-publisher, supervising all aspects of production from the first sketches to the final prints.

Impressions executed under Yoshida's direction bear his jizuri stamp (two characters reading "self-printed," indicating that Yoshida supervised and approved of the results). The "self-printed" seals appearing on impressions of Yoshida's prints are universally accepted as imprimateurs of lifetime authenticity and high quality. However, this "stamp of approval" is rarely indicative of Yoshida's actually printing the work. True, he was accomplished at both block carving and printing, and he considered having these skills a prerequisite for effectively supervising his artisans and guiding them toward achieving the results he demanded. In regard to carving the blocks, Yoshida cut only fifteen of his designs, otherwise delegating the remainder to two artisans — Yamagishi Kazue for some early prints, and Maeda Yûjirô for the remaining works. As for his printers, Yoshida employed various professionals over the years. Thus, the presence of a jizuri-e seal should not be taken as evidence that Yoshida actually printed the impression himself; rather, it signaled his sanctioning the impression as superior in rendering keyblock line, color, and multiblock registration, and thereby worthy of his signature. Moreover, if an impression includes an English-style signature ("Hiroshi Yoshida"), it should be in pencil, not stamped in graphite facsimile as are the numerous posthumous printings.

The first seventeen prints issued from his own studio were all scenes of non-Japanese subjects, and he continued throughout his career to produce images of both Japanese and foreign scenes. Yoshida's style was picturesque and widely popular. His choice of subjects could be somewhat nostalgic, even anachronistic at times, but his standards were very high and the overall quality of his work is impressive. Yoshida blended the techniques he learned in western-style oil painting with traditional printmaking methods by using extensive overprinting of colors, a gray keyblock line to help blend adjacent colors while avoiding a rigidity of forms, and an unusually subtle but wide range of colors. The result was both decorative and expressive. Rarely did his scenic but sophisticated prints degrade into mere tourist art in spite of the western subject matter or popular Japanese views.

Yoshida's portrayal of the Grand Canyon (illustrated above) was based on a large (40.8 x 60.8 cm) watercolor he painted in 1924 during his third trip to the United States. It was during this sojourn that Yoshida realized just how popular Japanese prints were outside of Japan, and it inspired him to establish his own printmaking business. The six prints in the United States series (Honolulu Aquarium; El Capitan; Grand Canyon; Niagara Falls; Mt. Rainier; Lake Moraine) — the ninth through the fourteenth works in his total oeuvre — were the first designs Yoshida made in his own Tokyo studio after he separated from the publisher Watanabe Shôsaburô, the formidable shin hanga impresario who had issued and sold Yoshida's first eight designs. The blocks for Grand Canyon were carved by Maeda Yûjirô. (For more, see my text at Yoshida Grand Canyon.)

Taj Day Taj Night

Yoshida first explored the effects of printing different colors for the same keyblock in 1921 to create alternate moods at three times of day (morning, afternoon, and evening) for his design called "Sailing Boats." Two similar examples of this approach are shown in the images below. The view on the left is titled Taji Maharu no niwa daichi ("Taj Mahal Gardens No. 1"), the view on the right Daini Taji Maharu no niwa yoru ("Taj Mahal No. 2 Gardens at Night"). They were published in 1931 as part of a series of prints depicting scenes from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Singapore issued in 1931-32. Six of these were views of the Taj Mahal. Yoshida experimented with depicting the low definition of shadows at early evening by using a monochrome blue palette to flatten the effects of light. The day view includes slight embossing (not visible in this illustration) on the facade of the Taj Mahal to accentuate the shadows produced by a bright sun. ©1999-2019 by John Fiorillo

For another view of the Taj Mahal, see Bartlett.


  • Brown, Kendall and Goodall-Cristante, Hollis: Shin-Hanga: New Prints in Modern Japan. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1996, pp. 42-44 and plates 39-43.
  • Catalogue of Collections [Modern Prints]: The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (Tokyo kokuritsu kindai bijutsukan shozô-hin mokuroku, 東京国立近代美術館所蔵品目録). 1993, p. 263, nos. 2531-2536.
  • Ogura, Tadao (Ed.): The Complete Woodblock Prints of Yoshida Hiroshi. Tokyo: Abe Publishing Co., 1987, plates 154-155 and 198.
  • Pachter, Irwin: Kawase Hasui and His Contemporaries: The Shin Hanga (New Print) Movement in Landscape Art. Syracuse: Everson Museum of Art, 1986, pp. 30-34, plates 106-127.
  • Smith, Lawrence: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. London: British Museum Press, 1994, pp. 38 & 50 and plates 49-50.
  • Stephens, Amy Reigle (Ed.): The New Wave: Twentieth Century Japanese Prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection. London & Leiden: Bamboo Publishing & Hotei Japanese Prints, 1993, pp. 117-121, plates 101-113.
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