One Hundred Aspects of the Moon is the last major work of Yoshitoshi and it is considered to be his best. Tsuki hyakushi - as it is called in Japanese - was published during the last seven years of Yoshitoshi's life. 100 Aspects of the Moon consists of a hundred single sheets with very diverse subjects and only one common theme - the moon, more or less visible on each design.
The series of tsuki hyakushi was produced over a period of seven years. Every few months, a few more designs were published. The last one was printed only a short time before Yoshitoshi's death. Yoshitoshi had suffered from a mental illness during his last years and died on June 9, 1892 at the age of 53 from what the doctors had diagnosed as a cerebral hermorrhage.
The Moon Series was extremely popular and a big success for Yoshitoshi. New designs were eagerly awaited by the public and were sold out within a few days. Yoshitoshi then was at the height of his fame after long years of economic hardship.
We produced this video a few years ago.
The moon was one of the preferred motifs of Yoshitoshi and it can be found in many of his designs. But the moon is not really the leitmotiv of this series. The common bond of all 100 prints is subject to speculation and individual interpretations. Stevenson sees "individuals and their emotions" as the leitmotiv. Scenes from Japan's and partly from China's history and the world of Japanese mythology are the majority of the designs.
Yoshitoshi was known as a more backward looking guy who watched the unreflected rush of the Meiji era towards Western modernization under the slogan of "enlightnement" with great scepticism. The series was certainly also meant as a counterpoint to the zeitgeist.
Yoshitoshi gave no comments on the designs, thus leaving lot of space for interpretations. One reason for the attraction of Tsuki Hyakushi is certainly the originality of the designs. Among works of the late nineteenth century, Yoshitoshi's Moon Series stands out as being very different from all dominating styles and trends.
John Stevenson wrote an excellent book titled Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon. It contains full-page images of each design with a detailed and substantial explanation of the subject plus a lot of valuable background information about Yoshitoshi and about the series. This book is a must for all serious collectors of the Moon Series. And for all novices to Japanese prints it is a gorgeous kind of "coffee table" book in the best sense of entertainment.
All designs carry the signature and the seal of Yoshitoshi - however different from print to print. Following an old tradition among Japanese artists, also Yoshitoshi used different artist names. The name of the engraver is found in the lower right corner. All sheets have a cartouche in the right top corner with the title of the series and a larger cartouche with the title of the specific design.
The left margin outside the image contains the name and address of the artist (only the earlier designs) and the publisher and the printing and publishing dates. The printing and publishing dates were required by law since 1887. In contrast to characters used for eighteenth or early nineteenth century prints, the characters used in the Meiji period are easily understandable by any contemporary Japanese.
As the wooden blocks are worn off with the numbers of copies made, later editions are usually lower in impression quality and therefore have a lower market value. After the death of Yoshitoshi, his publisher Akiyama Buemon, published posthumous editions of Tsuki Hyakushi as album sets from the original blocks. At that time the blocks for the early designs were 7 years old while the blocks of the latest ones were still in good condition.
There is no simple rule of thumb how to identify if a print is early or late. Basically you have to judge it from the quality of the impression and by comparing colors. The late editions have brighter colors. You might find quite a few prints with the left margin trimmed, thus making an identification by date impossible. If furthermore the impression is lousy with broken lines from worn blocks, you can be sure that it is a late edition.
The number of copies drawn from the blocks is unknown. John Stevenson estimates the total size including the posthumous editions as between two and three thousand. With the many Yoshitoshi prints to be found on the Internet, one has the impression that the actual number could be higher.
Prints from Tsuki Hyakushi are easily available on the art market. But they are also in good demand. Nevertheless, the prices for most designs are within an average collector's reach. You may get a design from the series starting at US$150-200. Some of the Yoshitoshi designs like Kumasaka (Stevenson No. 45) or Moon and Smoke (Stevenson No. 22) are considerably rarer and therefore more expensive and may easily hit the US$1,000 barrier.
From an investor's value aspect, collecting tsuki hyakushi is a good choice. Due to its popularity, the prints can be sold easily and the market prices for the different designs are rather transparent.
Author: Dieter Wanczura