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.
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 woman carries a traditional wagasa (umbrella: 和傘) made from paper (waterproofed with oil) and wood. In late Edo. Western-style umbrellas called kômori-gasa ("bat umbrellas": 蝙蝠傘), mass-produced using steel and cloth, were curiosities seen among the foreigners living in Yokohama, but after Western nations forced Japan to open its ports, the kômori-gasa was widely introduced into the cities of Japan during the Meiji period. In fact, the kômori-gasa became a status symbol for samurai who wanted to appear modern and civilized. Fast-forward to the 1950s, when kômori-gasa became even more popular, overtaking the wagasa until the traditional Japanese umbrella more or less disappeared from daily use. Even so, it remains to this day an essential accessary for professional entertainers and amateur practitioners (dancers, geisha, kabuki actors, festival participants) and so large numbers are made every year to satisfy this specialized demand. Mori's young woman is a vivid reminder of this lasting tradition as she moves along bracingly while tightly gripping the wagasa.
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.
- Meech, Julia: Rain and Snow: The Umbrella in Japanese Art. New York: Japan Society, 1993.