The Yugao Chapter from "The Tale of Genji", 1886
Ink on Paper
12 15/16 in. x 8 3/4 in. (328.61 mm x 222.25 mm)
In Japan’s 11th-century literary classic The Tale of Genji (Japanese: Genji Monogatari), Yūgao is one of Prince Genji's lovers. In Chapter 4, Prince Genji stops by a humble house, impressed by the beautiful flowers blooming along the fence outside. The lady of the house offers the Prince a fan with a poem about the flowers, which are known as yūgao (lit. “evening faces,” a sort of morning glory). Although she is of a lower status than Genji, he soon has an affair with her and gives her the name Lady Yūgao. Sadly, after they consummate their love, Yūgao dies very suddenly, probably killed by the jealous spirit of Genji's former mistress, Lady Rokujō. The young prince is distraught and falls ill for 20 days. In this eerie yet serene image, Yoshitoshi portrays Yūgao as a wistful ghost, delicate, pale and lovely, elegantly framed by the winding vines of her namesake flower.
- Meher McArthur, January 7, 2021
Some consider Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) to be Japan’s last great ukiyo-e artist since the introduction of photography into Japanese culture significantly decreased the output of woodblock prints. Yoshitoshi started working at the end of the Edo period and into the Meiji period. Kuniyoshi was Yoshitoshi’s mentor and taught him a lot of styles including prints of beautiful women and warrior prints. Yoshitoshi’s style and subject matter is very similar to Kuniyoshi’s for this reason. His first collection of prints depicted battles or mice and cats and was comical because the animals were dressed in human clothing, something Kuniyoshi had done in the past.
Yoshitoshi suffered from mental illness, including depression, and started signing his work “Taiso Yoshitoshi” meaning “Great Resurrection” after 1871 when he came out of depression enough to make art again. This print is one from a series called 100 Aspects of the Moon completed from 1885-1892 and was one of his final collections before his death at age 53. This collection pays homage to Hokusai’s 100 Views of Mount Fuji since it shows characters from Japanese and Chinese mythology cleverly framing an image of the moon.
This particular print shows the ghost of Yugao. Yugao is a character from The Tale of Genji, which tells the story of Genji, a handsome prince, who has many lovers. He is particularly attracted to Yugao’s gentleness and she becomes one of his fondest lovers. Unfortunately Genji’s past lover, Rokujo, sends her jealous spirit to kill Yugao and she dies after spending one night with Genji in his arms.
This is a very lyrical interpretation of the ghost of Yugao. Although it is part of the 100 Aspects of the Moon series, the subject is clearly Yugao. Yoshitoshi is able to convey her gentleness, which is what attracted Genji to her in the first place, through her body language. She stands very gracefully; her facial features look very soft and her long hair is falling softly behind her. She is beautifully framed among the flowers and Yoshitoshi adds a great transparency affect. You can see the vines and leaves through Yugao’s kimono. The fading towards the bottom of the page also adds to the ghostly effect of the image. The coloring is also nice and soft, which speaks to her ghostly qualities, and she seems to be illuminated by the moon above her. The outlines of the plant are strong and black, which makes them seem real and tangible while Yugao’s outline is soft and she seems to be fading out of the print, not quite graspable. The leaves are also shaded, which adds volume to them and causes them to stand out of the print even more. This image is very graceful and beautiful, yet a little eerie. Yoshitoshi is able to convey Yugao as isolated and lonely yet not harmful.
Mary Chawaga, Scripps College 2017
The artist Yoshitoshi loved noh and often took his adopted son Kogyo to see performances in Tokyo. While Kogyo depicted stage scenes in his noh prints, Yoshitoshi created more mysterious images that captured the atmosphere of the stories rather than the performances. Here the spirit of Yugao moves through the moonlit mist, and tendrils of the yugao vine gracefully embrace her soft diaphanous form.
Professor Bruce Coats
Artist's seal: Taiso. Title on envelope. Signed: Yoshitoshi. Carver: Yamamoto to.
Colored ink woodblock on paper; oban.
Meiji period Japanese color woodblock print with an image of the profile of a ghostly woman with long, silvery hair, under the full moon. In Chapter Four of the Tale of Genji, Genji passes by a dilapidated house in Kyoto. Intrigued by the white "evening face" flowers (yugao), he sends a servant to inquire after the lady of the house, whose fragile beauty captivates him. Known in the tale simply as Lady Yugao, she finally agrees to accompany Genji to his remote country estate, where she dies soon after consummating their love, driven into death by the vengeful spirit of one of Genji's former mistresses. Memories of her continued to haunt Genji, and the artist Yoshitoshi has poignantly portrayed her spirit beyond the tendrils of the "Evening Faces" plant. The subtle coloring of this print is done by carefully blending inks on the woodblock, so each image is unique.
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