Hiroshi Yoshida is considered one of the leading figures of the renewal of Japanese printmaking after the end of the Meiji period (1912). The renewal was based on two groups of artists, the shin hanga (modern prints) and the sosaku hanga (creative prints) movement.
Hiroshi Yoshida was born as the son of an elementary school principal. His artistic talent was discovered early and at the age of 18 he entered a private art school in Tokyo.
Hiroshi started as a painter and soon won many art exhibition prizes. But it was not before 1920 that he began creating wood block prints. Yoshida Hiroshi then met Watanabe Shozaburo, publisher and owner of the Watanabe print store in Tokyo. Watanabe published the first seven of the wood block prints of Hiroshi Yoshida.
The traditional process of creating Japanese woodblock prints was a cooperation of three strictly separated skills: the artist who designed the print subject, the carver and finally the printer and publisher. In contrast to this traditional approach, the sosaku hanga followers believed that the process of creating a print - design, carving, printing - should be performed by the artist himself.
Although Yoshida Hiroshi is usually considered as a member of the Shin hanga movement, he followed the same ambitions of creating a print by himself.
In 1923 Watanabe's store was completely destroyed in the fires that followed the Great Kanto Earthquake. All of Yoshida Hiroshi's wood blocks and more than a hundred of his prints were lost.
After coming back from his third visit to the United States, Yoshida Hiroshi started employing his own artisan carvers and printers in 1925. He supervised them very closely and often he carved a block himself. He thought that he had to be more skilled in all aspects of producing a print than each of his workers.
The French impressionists liked to paint the same subject at different times of the day to show the effects of light and shadow and the influence of the light on colors. This was basically the essence of French impressionism.
The shin hanga art movement picked up this idea from the French impressionists and combined it with old, traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking on a very high level of craftsmanship. Hiroshi Yoshida made several of his designs in two or more versions - a day and a night scene or images at different weather conditions or different times of the day.
These designs are among the most beautiful and most coveted ones in his oeuvre. Well known are the different versions of the Acropolis in Athens, the Sphinx in Egypt, the Sailing Boats series, the Sumida River, Himeji Castle, Kanchenjunga Mountains, Taji-Mahal, Caravan from Afganistan and maybe a few more.
Hiroshi traveled a lot. He came to the United States, Europe, Africa, India, China, Korea and throughout Japan. Another passion was mountaineering. He even established an association called Nihon Sangakuga Kyokai, the Japan Alpine Artist Association. Hiroshi Yoshida prints reflect both his love for traveling and for mountains. Most prints show landscape scenes from his travels and mountain subjects from Japan and the European Alps.
Although his roots were in Japanese traditions, Yoshida was a real cosmopolitan artist who merged both worlds to something new and fascinating. When looking at his prints one has the impression of being on the spot. The artist is cited with the words:
"True art is cosmopolitan and the result therefore of external influences as well as of the inherent vitality and life of the different nations".
Towards the end of his life, the artist planned a series titled One Hundred Views of the World. However he died before he could put his dream into reality.
Yoshida Hiroshi had created 259 wood blocks - seven published by Watanabe and the rest by Hiroshi himself. It should not be forgotten that he gave the world even more than his own works of art: His both sons, Toshi Yoshida and Hodaka Yoshida became great artists themselves.
A few years ago we produced and published a video with a short introduction to Hiroshi Yoshida.
"The complete Woodblock Prints of Yoshida Hiroshi", published by ABE Corporation, ISBN 4-87242-121-3.
Author: Dieter Wanczura