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Archive: Mori, Yoshitoshi (森義利)

Machi musume ("Town girl": 町娘)
"Y. Mori" in the block
No artist seal
(H x W)
Wood-carved picture (板彫絵) with hand-painting
22.3 x 15.6 cm
Excellent carving, color, condition
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: MRI03


Mori Yoshitoshi (森義利 1898-1992) was born in Tokyo and graduated from the Kawabata School of Fine Arts. He studied stencil dyeing with Yanagi Sôetsu (柳宗悦 1889-1961), a philosopher who helped establish the Mingei (folk crafts: 民芸) movement in the late 1920s and 1930s. Mori also studied with the textile designer, leading member of the mingei movement, and ningen kokuhô (Living National Treasure: 人間国宝 in 1956) Serizawa Keisuke (芹沢銈介 1895-1984). Mori produced tapestries in the 1940s that he entered into exhibitions, and began making monotype stencil prints from wooden blocks and glass sheets in 1951. He first exhibited prints on paper in 1954, encouraged by Yanagi.

A revealing incident occurred in 1957 that was both a disappointment and a triumph for Mori. Eight hundred prints by 250 artists from around the world were entered into the First International Biennial of Prints in Tokyo. The judges were from France, Spain, West Germany, Israel, and Japan. Dissension ensued, with the Japanese judges favoring prints in the Western manner, while the foreign judges preferred works in the Japanese tradition. On the strength of the vote by the Japanese contingent, first prize went to the mezzotint master Hamaguchi Yôzô (浜口陽三 1909-2000), but Mori was the favorite of the foreign judges. Despite the outcome, Mori was encouraged to pursue printmaking.

Mori straddled the worlds of artist and artisan-craftsman until 1962 when his kappazuri-e (lit., "oil-skin prints," or stencil prints: 合羽摺絵) met with criticism from Serizawa, who in a well-known debate charged Mori with abandoning the crafts movement. Mori thereafter devoted himself to the art of kappazuri-e and was no longer closely associated with the mingei movement. For more than 30 years his subjects included kabuki, craftsmen, festivals, women, and figures from traditional stories, printed on colored or plain grounds. Stylistically, his figures are typically positioned in contorted, dynamic masses of shapes and colors. They nearly always expressed a unique artistic vision.


Sadahiro SDH13The 1985 exhibition catalog on Mori's art (see ref. below) defines a itaborie (wood-carved or board-carved picture: 板彫絵) as "a picture carved by knife on a woodblock, creating an effect like a brush drawing. The woodblock image is colored by vegetable pigment instead of lacquered. Mori Yoshitoshi created this method in 1983."

A favorite subject of Mori Yoshitoshi is that of young women, what in ukiyo-e and shin hanga were called bijin-ga (prints of beautiful women: 美人画). He took his inspiration from historical tales (Genji monogatari, Heike monogatari, kabuki, folktales, and so on) as well as from contemporary models. Among the latter, he had a fascination with women going about their everyday activities. In our carved picture, Mori's "town girl" wears her hair in a fashionable style while her expression seems insouciant and self-assured. The marks of the wood-carving chisel remain visible throughout the image, leaving behind a complex surface that makes the portrait all the more vivid in its execution and aesthetic impact. Perhaps this manner of carving and surface finish may be compared to a gestural drawing or painting.

This same (unique) wood-carved picture is illustrated in the 1985 book Mori Yoshitoshi Kappa-ban (see ref. below) as fig. 173 on p. 131. Mori was 85 years old when he carved it.

We are pleased to be able to offer this very rare, one-of-a-kind wood carving. It is professionally mounted within a beveled silk mat and Japanese wood frame (see image at right).


Mori Yoshitoshi's daughter (artist's estate)


  • Abe Setsuko, et al., Mori Yoshitoshi Kappa-ban (Stencil prints of Mori Yoshitoshi: 合羽版森義利), Exhibition catalog, Ginza Matsuzukaya and National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, Netherlands, 1985.