Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Twenty-Four Hours at Shinbashi and Yanagibashi (Shinryu nijushi toki) 9 pm - Geisha Watching Sparks Struck from a Flint, 1880. Oban.
What an intriguing print this is. The design (and the story), make use of the idea of lighting up: the man with the lantern in the cartouche, the striking flint and the hanging lantern visible behind the woman. This is a strange and surreal composition. As usual in the series, we see only part of the male character - in this case his hands. The narrative remains obscure - whose hands, why is he striking the flint (there is no obvious wick or touch paper) and why truncate the body in such a deliberate and yet disconcerting fashion? These elements lend the picture a strange, mysterious quality - the more so because of the woman’s enigmatic expression and hesitant gesture.
We have several prints from this very fine and increasingly rare series by Yoshitoshi from 1880. In the late Edo period the area of Shinbashi and Yanagibashi became the new focus of entertainment and prostitution. What became the main Tokyo Railway Station opened here in 1872 and by the 1880‘s, with modernisation in full spate, the area came to symbolise the new, patriotic, modern Japan. There is a great deal in this series that aspires to the modern, in spite of the traditions of the geisha and of prostitution that it depicts. The notion of documenting the courtesan’s day was not new and had been exploited already by artists such as Utamaro. In this series, Yoshitoshi depicts twenty-four scenes of women performing different tasks, one for each hour of the day. Notable is Yoshitoshi’s use of the Western 24 hour clock. Japan had only recently moved from the traditional Chinese calendar and this device, along with the modern style of drawing that he was confidently mastering, gives the series a deliberately contemporary feel. Each of the prints shows a head and shoulders image of a geisha; the scenes are mundane, a geisha in bed smoking a pipe, or walking home in the snow at midnight. At the top of each sheet is a large cartouche which illustrates a prose piece written by Takabatake Ransen in the gesaku tradition, a style that requires coterie knowledge to be fully understood.
Very fine colour and impression and in fine condition.
Signed oju Yoshitoshi ga. Published by Morimoto Junzaburo, Nakamura Mitsu, engraved by Hori Yata, text by Takabatake Ransen.
35cm x 25cm.