Yoshida Hiroshi, Kumoi Cherry Trees


Hattie Lloyd 21/06/24

Yoshida: Three Generations of Japanese Printmaking

Ukiyo-e woodblock printing seems so intrinsically connected to the Japanese landscape, it’s hard to imagine the artform originating anywhere else: the bokashi gradients that evoke low-hanging mists and vivid sunsets, the jagged mountainous terrain etched in sharp relief, the soft contrast of weeping tree branches in the foreground.

So what happens when you take this characteristically Japanese approach, and apply it to foreign landscapes? Quote remarkable things, as this exhibition demonstrates.

124 years after he visited Dulwich Picture Gallery on a grand tour of Europe’s artistic capitals, Yoshida Hiroshi, the grand-father of a great Japanese print dynasty, is being honoured on its walls. The Yoshida name is revered in Japan – and even as far as the US – but is comparatively unknown in the UK, dwarfed by 19th century predecessors Hiroshige and Hokusai.

There is no doubt, however, that this exhibition is going to change that. Across four exquisite rooms (which will have millennials feverishly colour-matching the walls to Farrow & Ball paint charts), you’re taken on a journey through time as the family tree lengthens and widens, each Yoshida member carrying the torch onwards in their uniquely progressive ways.

Yoshida Hiroshi – El Capitan

We start with the patriarch, Yoshida Hiroshi, whose early career as a yōga painter (emulating Western techniques) imbued his prints with an incredible painterly quality. Following the Great Earthquake of 1923, he travelled the world before returning to Tokyo where he set up his own workshop: a pioneering move. Traditionally, woodblock printing relied on a quartet of craftsmen working in perfect synchrony: artist, carver, printer and publisher. By adopting the roles of both artist and publisher, Hiroshi enjoyed greater control over his prints.

And what prints they are: expanding the meishō (famous places) style beyond Japanese borders, he renders landmarks like El Capitan, the Sphinx, the Taj Mahal in dreamlike palettes. He applies different dyes to the same blocks to evoke day and night scenes. There is so much to admire in here, from backstreet teahouses whose glowing lanterns are reflected in a road flooded with rainwater, to the large-scale waterfall print, so dynamic you can almost hear the rush of the water over the rocks.

Yoshida Toshi – Unknown (michi no)

The next room pays brief but effective tribute to his wife Fujio, whose work is displayed in the UK for the first time. A talented artist in her own right – able to inherit her family trade by virtue of having no older brothers – she was celebrated for her magnified flower prints, produced with creative use of a fishbowl. Most of the wallspace, however, is dedicated to their son Tōshi. Lamplit scenes of pre-war Tokyo are accomplished prints echoing his father’s talents. But its in the abstract that he strikes his own path, visits to Mexico informing striking monolithic forms and the mesmerising Camouflage of 1985, two tigers prowling through a mesh of long grass.

Yoshida Hodaka – Profile of an Ancient Warrior

His brother Hodaka similarly broke the early Yoshida mould, his style more heavily influenced by Pop Art and Expressionist movements. Family trips to Mexico are prominent here too, in the experimental streetscapes that incorporate photo etching into the woodblock process. His work is exhibited alongside that of his wife Chizuko, who turned to print-making after a promising career in dance was cut short by an injury. That musicality and lyricism flows through her prints, which use both colour and its absence in arrestingly creative ways.

The exhibition wraps up with the current torchbearer, the youngest Yoshida member, Ayomi. She’s created a site-specific installation that will be dismantled and never again recreated after its time here. Fittingly, she’s chosen cherry blossom as her subject: Japan’s national symbol of fleeting beauty. Reflecting on time, family connections and the environment, her installation features thousands upon thousands of printed, hand-cut blossoms which sweep across a seascape crafted from the wooden boards used in printing.

The good news is, with the exhibition running until November, you have a bit longer than usual to catch it…


NOTE: Yoshida: Three Generations of Japanese Printmaking runs at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 3rd November. Tickets cost £20 (inc. donation) – you can book HERE.

Yoshida | Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road SE21 7AD

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Yoshida: Three Generations of Japanese Printmaking

Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, Dulwich, SE21 7AD