ONE HUNDRED ASPECTS OF THE MOON
Yoshitoshi’s series, One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, completed shortly before his death in 1892, epitomizes the restraint and subtlety that define his later work. Against a backdrop of a national policy of westernization during the rule of the Meiji emperor (1868-1912), Yoshitoshi offered his audience a pilgrimage to Japan’s glorious past. Published between 1885 and 1892, this series of 100 individual woodblock prints depicts figures from Japanese and Chinese legend, history, literature, folklore and theater. Each subject is captured at a moment in time and held suspended by a poetic dialogue with the moon.
The phases of the moon formed the basis of the calendar system in pre-industrialized Japan. In the lunar calendar, the night of the new moon is the first day of each month and the full moon follows two weeks later. Those familiar with this system can easily correlate the date of a specific event with the state of the moon on that night. Yoshitoshi used the waxing and waning phases of the moon and the symbolism associated with them as a commentary on the human condition. The artist’s own experiences with poverty and mental illness instilled in him a sense of compassion and a desire to explore the depth and range of human emotion. While the sense of tranquility that Yoshitoshi seemed to reach in his last years is evident in One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, there are also an underlying darkness and loneliness that haunt the viewer. In a country that was no longer the old Japan, and not yet the new Japan, this series had great appeal to an audience on the brink of the unknown.
Holding back the night
With its increasing brilliance
The summer moon
(Yoshitoshi’s death poem)