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Biography: YOSHIDA Hiroshi (吉田博)

Photo of Yoshida Hiroshi 1924
Yoshida Hiroshi, c. 1924
(Around the time of his
second visit to the United States)

Yoshida Hiroshi pencil signature

Yoshida Hiroshi brushed signature


Yoshida Hiroshi 1925 El capitanYoshida Hiroshi (吉田博 1876-1950) was the second son of a samurai named Ueda Tsukane. In 1891 he was adopted by Yoshida Kasaburô (1861-94), a junior high school art teacher where Hiroshi was enrolled in Fukuoka Prefecture. Showing great promise, he was sent to Kyoto to train with Kasaburô's former art teacher Tamura Sôryû (田村宗立 1846-1918) in 1893 (who was trained in the Nanga manner, but was better known for his oils paintings).

During his study in Kyoto, Hiroshi met the watercolorist Miyake Katsumi (三宅克己 or 三宅克巳 1874-1954), who would have a lasting influence on the young artist. Following Miyake's advice, Hiroshi relocated to Tokyo in 1894, where he was accepted at the Fudôsha (不同社 meaning, roughly, "Diversity"), a private painting school run by the early yôga-style painter Koyama Shôtarô (小山 正太郎 1857–1916). Many important yôga-style painters trained there, and in that fertile environment, Hiroshi succeeded in enhancing his skills as a painter in watercolors.

In March 1898 he submitted an oil to the Tenth Anniversary Exhibition of the Meiji Bijutsukai (Meiji Fine Arts Society). Titled Kumo akimi aki ("Mountain mist in mid-autumn: 雲叡深秋, now in the Fukuoka Art Museum), it brought Yoshida his first public recognition as an artist. Yoshida also mastered Western-style oil painting in the 1890s. By 1900, his watercolor "High Mountains and Stream" was exhibited at the World Exposition in Paris where it won an award and made Yoshida famous in Japan. In 1899, the year between these two works, Yoshida visited the United States and Europe and began selling watercolors to western buyers.

In 1920-21 Yoshida designed eight woodcuts for the eminent shin hanga impresario Watanabe Shôzaburô (渡辺庄三郎, 1885-1962), but the great Kantô earthquake of 1923 destroyed Watanabe's studio, which stored carved woodblocks and prints by various artists, including Yoshida. He traveled again to the United States in 1923-1924. It was during this sojourn that Yoshida realized how popular Japanese prints were outside of Japan, and it inspired him to establish his own printmaking business.

Yoshida resumed printmaking in 1925 as an independent artist-publisher, supervising all aspects of production from the first sketches to the final prints. Six prints in the United States series (Honolulu Aquarium; El Capitan; Grand Canyon; Niagara Falls; Mt. Rainier; Lake Moraine) — the ninth through the fourteenth works in his oeuvre — were the first designs Yoshida made in his Tokyo studio after he separated from the publisher Watanabe. The design for El Capitan (the Japanese title was Yosemitto-dani Eru Kyapitan) is shown above right. A much admired work, it was carved by Kazue Yamagishi (1891-1984), who also self-published many woodblock prints of his own designs. Kazue was a highly sought-after block carver who worked with (in addition to Yoshida Hiroshi) Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1968), Takehisa Yumeji (1884-1934), Kaburagi Kiyokata (1878-1972), Paul Jacoulet (1896-1960), Ishikawa Toraji (1875-1964), and for some book covers, Onchi Kôshirô (1891-1955). Yoshida Hiroshi, in his treatise titled Japanese Wood-block Printing (1939), noted that six blocks and 33 keyblock and color-printings were required to complete the image of El Capitan.

The first seventeen prints issued from his studio were all scenes of non-Japanese subjects, and he continued throughout his career to produce images of both foreign and Japanese scenes. Yoshida's style was picturesque and widely popular. His choice of subjects could be somewhat nostalgic, even anachronistic at times, but his standards were very high and the overall quality of his work was impressive. Yoshida blended the techniques he learned in western-style oil painting with traditional printmaking methods by using extensive overprinting of colors, a gray keyblock line to help blend adjacent colors while avoiding a rigidity of forms, and an unusually subtle but wide range of colors. The result was both decorative and expressive. Rarely did his scenic but sophisticated prints degrade into mere tourist art in spite of the western subject matter or popular Japanese views.

Yoshida first explored the effects of printing different colors with the same keyblock in 1921 when he attempted to create alternate moods or times of day (morning, afternoon, and evening; image size 450 x 330 mm) for a three-print series titled "Sailing Boats" (帆船). Five years later he produced his most famous set featuring different colorations with the series Seto Naikai shû (Inland Sea collection: 瀬戸内海集), which he printed in variant colors as six double-ôban designs (540 x 390 mm). Once again, each image is titled Hansen (Sailing boats: 帆船) and subtitled with different times of day or night.

Note about Yoshida's lifetime impressions
Impressions executed under Yoshida's direction bear his jizuri stamp (two characters reading "self-printed," indicating that Yoshida supervised and approved of the results). The "self-printed" seals appearing on impressions of Yoshida's prints are universally accepted as imprimaturs of lifetime authenticity and high quality. However, this "stamp of approval" is rarely indicative of Yoshida's actually printing the work. True, he was accomplished at both block carving and printing, and he considered having these skills a prerequisite for effectively supervising his artisans and guiding them toward achieving the results he demanded. In regard to carving the blocks, Yoshida cut only fifteen of his designs, otherwise delegating the remainder to two artisans — Yamagishi Kazue for some early prints, and Maeda Yûjirô for the remaining works. As for his printers, Yoshida employed various professionals over the years. Thus, the presence of a jizuri-e seal should not be taken as evidence that Yoshida actually printed the impression himself; rather, it signaled his sanctioning the impression as superior in rendering keyblock line, color, and multiblock registration, and thereby worthy of his signature. Moreover, if an impression includes an English-style signature ("Hiroshi Yoshida"), it should be in pencil, not stamped in graphite facsimile as are the numerous posthumous printings.


  • Allen, Laura, et al.: A Japanese Legacy: Four Generations of Yoshida Family Artists. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2002.
  • Brown, Kendall and Goodall-Cristante, Hollis: Shin-Hanga: New Prints in Modern Japan. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1996, pp. 42-44 and plates 39-43.
  • Catalogue of Collections [Modern Prints]: The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (Tokyo kokuritsu kindai bijutsukan shozô-hin mokuroku, 東京国立近代美術館所蔵品目録). 1993, p. 263, nos. 2531-2536.
  • Ogura, Tadao (Ed.): The Complete Woodblock Prints of Yoshida Hiroshi. Tokyo: Abe Publishing Co., 1987, plates 154-155 and 198.
  • Pachter, Irwin: Kawase Hasui and His Contemporaries: The Shin Hanga (New Print) Movement in Landscape Art. Syracuse: Everson Museum of Art, 1986, pp. 30-34, plates 106-127.
  • Smith, Lawrence: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. London: British Museum Press, 1994, pp. 38 & 50 and plates 49-50.
  • Stephens, Amy Reigle (Ed.): The New Wave: Twentieth Century Japanese Prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection. London & Leiden: Bamboo Publishing & Hotei Japanese Prints, 1993, pp. 117-121, plates 101-113.

The information given here about Yoshida Hiroshi is based partly on John Fiorillo's web page: