Hiroshi Yoshida (1876-1950) created a total of 259 woodblock prints during his lifetime. He chose many scenes from his travels outside Japan and from his mountaineering passion. Writing about Yoshida's prints in chronological order is like writing about his life.
By the year 1920 Hiroshi Yoshida was 44 years old. He was a successful, established painter and watercolor artist specialized in landscapes who exhibited regularly at the great art shows in Japan and who had won several prizes.
Shozaburo Watanabe was 35 years old in 1920. He had established his own print publishing company at an early age.
From about 1907 on he had started to produce woodblock prints in a modernized traditional style - mainly for the European and North American markets. For the production of these prints he was permanently looking for good artists willing to cooperate with him.
Somehow the two men came together. And after the first Hiroshi Yoshida woodblock print had gained wide recognition, the artist produced the first seven prints commissioned by Watanabe from 1921 to 1922.
The Sacred Garden in Meiji Shrine was Yoshida's first woodblock print. It was produced as a scroll in the dimensions of 30.3 x 126.8 cm - 11.9 x 49.9 inches, commissioned by the Meiji Shrine Support Association and published by Shozaburo Watanabe. It was produced and sold in 3,000 copies.
It is interesting to look at the first seven prints created by Yoshida. Number 1, The Sacred Garden in Meiji Shrine is a good work probably reflecting closely what the commissioner wanted - with little artistic freedoms for Hiroshi and limited by the scroll format - long and narrow.
His first print commissioned by Watanabe, the Afternoon in a Pasture shows 4 cows on a plain field with subdued colors. In my very personal view (Hiroshi forgive me!), this print has the fascination of a pair of socks in gray colors - well done, but kind of dull and boring.
But look at the prints number 3 and following - what a contrast! Daring colors, fascinating - something that blows your socks off! The difference is so obvious, and I wonder how it came about.
Did Watanabe with his unique feeling for the taste of the market interfere after the "cow print" and push Yoshida into this more exciting direction? Just a personal opinion. I would like to know more about it.
The cooperation of the two men would probably have continued over the years. But life is not a predictable time line and sometimes the unexpected happens and changes things over night.
In September 1, 1923, the worst earthquake in Japan's history and one of the worst in world's history hit the Tokyo area.
It caused the lives of ca. 140,000 people. The worst damage was caused by the fires that raged for three days after the earthquake. It destroyed also Watanabe's print shop and with it all of Hiroshi's blocks and most of the print copies.
In December 1923 Hiroshi and his wife Fujio left Japan heading for the United States with a big bag full of paintings of their own and by some artist colleagues and with some remaining prints. The couple had visited the USA 19 years before in 1904. This time they left Japan hoping to be able to sell their works in the USA.
"The complete Woodblock Prints of Yoshida Hiroshi", published by ABE Corporation, ISBN 4-87242-121-3.
Author: Dieter Wanczura