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Biography: YOSHIDA Tôshi (吉田遠志)

Yoshida Tôshi, c. 1985
Photo by Yoshida Takashi

Yoshida Toshi 1981 pencil signature
Lifetime pencil signature


Yoshida Toshi 1981 antelopesYoshida Toshi signatureYoshida Tôshi (吉田遠志 1911-1995) was the eldest son of the artist Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950) with whom he studied from the age of fourteen. From 1932 to 1935, he also enrolled at the Taiheiyo-Gakai (Pacific Painting Association) which had been co-founded by his father. Before the Pacific War, Tôshi traveled widely with his father in Asia, Europe, Egypt, and the United States. In subsequent years, he continued to travel on his own, especially in Mexico, the United States, Canada, and Africa. He remained in his father's studio (established in 1925) until Hiroshi's death in 1950 and ran the family operations thereafter.

With the death of his father, Tôshi became the head of the family, initially focusing on restoring their finances, which had suffered after the war. He took on the leadership of the Yoshida studio, promoting his father's work while encouraging expansion of the idiom that his father had established. He also supported experimentation in a more modern, international style, as could be found in his brother Hodaka's more adventurous oeuvre. In fact, years before, Tôshi had protected his brother from their father's condemnation of abstraction by maintaining Hodaka's "secret" — that he was designing abstract prints in the mid-1940s. Tôshi once said that it was Hodaka's modernist works that inspired his own abstract oils starting around 1949 and prints beginning at least by 1952.

Tôshi, working in the shadow of his demanding father, adopted Hiroshi's naturalistic drawing and compositional style. However, he sometimes selected subjects that his father did not embrace, such as views of the sea and wildlife. One of his animal woodcuts is shown above right, a large-format (double ôban) titled "Japanese Antelopes in Snow" (Kamoshika to yuki: 羚羊と雪) from 1981. Soon after his Hiroshi's death, Tôshi's rebellion fully emerged when he began making abstract prints in the sôsaku hanga manner without the collaboration of the Yoshida workshop. Even so, he continued to make representational art throughout his career.

Tôshi's oeuvre may be divided into five phases: (1) Early animal prints from 1925-1930; (2) landscapes and genre scenes in keeping with his father's subject matter from 1939; (3) Landscapes and genre scenes produced during the Pacific War; (4) post-war works including oil paintings, drawings, and prints both in naturalistic and abstract styles and landscapes; and (5) oil paintings, drawings, and prints on African themes. The chronicler of the Yoshida family, Eugene Skibbe, once wrote that, "At the center of Tôshi's aesthetic is a vision into the heart of things in which he sees, not fragmentation and conflict, but unity, order, and harmony. His works often contain both rational clarity (immediacy) and mystical repose. This vision guided him throughout his career, finding expression in surprising new ways in the African period."

Although Tôshi is generally not associated with abstract art, he began to explore abstraction starting around 1949, prompted in part by the work of his brother Hodaka, but also by his awareness of non-objective art in the West. At first he painted a few oils on canvas. These included, in 1949, "Three Women" and "Whirlpool," each measuring 640 x 530 mm. In 1952, two years after Hiroshi's death, Tôshi embarked upon a long period of producing abstract prints while also working on naturalistic landscapes, nature views, and scenes from his travels abroad. By one count, his abstract prints number 289 works from 1952 to 1975 (most were made from 1954 to 1965).

In 1991-1992, Tôshi supervised the construction of a small family museum in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, which became a showcase for the diverse talent among the many artists in the Yoshida family.

Note about editions: Nearly always, lifetime signatures are pencil-signed in English by Tôshi, whereas posthumous signatures are stamped facsimiles. However, very late in his career, when illness and weakness in his writing hand prevented him from signing, Tôshi supervised the studio printing and, on impressions he approved, used a stamped signature accompanied by an embossed seal. The same applies for both numbered and unlimited editions. The following examples are small and thus not entirely effective in demonstrating differences, but perhaps what can be seen here is that the pencil signature appears smooth and consistent with the use of graphite (pencil). Stamped (printed) signatures, however, appear somewhat broken or erratic in their strokes as if uneven pressure had been applied (this appears to be an artifact of the facsimile stamps).

Lifetime pencil signature Late lifetime stamped signature
with embossed artist seal at right
Posthumous stamped signature

This is not the place for a discussion of market values typically associated with pencil-signed versus posthumous printings, but, clearly, greater value is assigned by collectors and museums to lifetime impressions, and to pencil-signed impressions over lifetime stamp-signed & embossed-seal impressions.

Tôshi's works are in numerous private and public collections, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; Art Institute of Chicago; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; British Museum, London; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Cincinnati Art Museum; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Harvard Art Museums; Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawai'i; Krakow National Museum, Poland; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Art, Atami, Japan; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian, Washington, DC; National Museum of Australia, Canberra; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; National Museums of Scotland; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Paris National Library; Seattle Museum of Art; and Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio.

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