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 trained with Serizawa Keisuke (芹沢銈介 1895-1984), a textile designer, leading member of the mingei movement, and ningen kokuhô (Living National Treasure: 人間国宝 in 1956). 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. Encouraged by Yanagi, he first exhibited prints on paper in 1954.
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.
One of Mori's favorite subjects is 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 sources such as the 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. Here, the familiar ritual of combing the hair has been turned into a study of the taut, bulging musculature of a female nude. It is interesting to compare the two versions, as the drawing is essentially naturalistic in its rendering of the body, whereas the print relies heavily on an arrangement of somewhat discontinuous circles and ovals. Clenched between her teeth is a long hairpin, destined to be inserted into her hair once she is satisfied with the combing. The purplish-red color edged with blue in the drawing suggests a warm-skinned beauty fresh from bathing. The use of a bright primary-red colorant along the top of the comb in the print serves as a clever punctuation to an otherwise monochromatic image. It is instructive to witness the development of Mori's ideas as he moved from the powerful drawing to the equally forceful though more abstracted stencil print.
The drawing was mounted by the artist to a backing paper along the top edge, a common presentation found with Mori's drawings. The print is on a much larger sheet and has wide margins on all sides.
We are pleased to be able to offer this rare pairing of a large-format preparatory drawing and self-published stencil print by Mori Yoshitoshi.
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.