UVaM - University of Virginia Art Museum


Tsukioka Yoshitoshi
Japanese, 1839-1892
The Story of Jirozaemon of Sano from the series A New Selection of Eastern Brocade Pictures, 1886
Color woodblock print,
14 x 19 1/4 inches
Museum Purchase with funds from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation,

Left detail

Right detail

In this image, Yoshitoshi depicts a scene from a Kabuki play. Kabuki and Ukiyo-e were often inspired by what today might be called material for tabloids. The artist makes a very strong contrast between the stately and splendid courtesan and the ugly country bumpkin (Jirozaemon) who is murdering her out of resentment for being rejected. Although the slaughtered grand courtesan Yatsuhashi is drawn in the idealized traditional style, her maddened killer is depicted in a coarse Western realist style. There is a lurid light on the scene. The bloody handprint on the bumpkin's leg is probably that of the victim but it reminds us that handprints could serve as the signature of the artist. The plover design on the courtesan's kimono seems to metamorphose into the tissue papers that have scattered into flight like birds. High-class courtesans were sometimes viewed as heroic or almost saintly, at least in Kabuki or Ukiyo-e, because they were thought to have entered their profession for reasons of self-sacrifice. Uninked passages in this richly "brocaded" print may remind us of the possibility of purity and peace. Once condemned as vulgar, the boldness of color, design, and psychology exemplified by Yoshitoshi, his teacher, Kuniyoshi, and Kunisada now seem prophetic of Modernist sensibility.