Tsukioka Yoshitoshi is widely regarded as the last great master of the ukiyo-e genre. His career spanned the opening of Japan and the beginning of the Meiji Restoration; a period of radical social, political and technological change during which he pushed traditional Japanese woodblock printing to a new level, even as the advent of photography and lithography were rendering it obsolete. “Yoshitoshi’s courage, vision and force of character gave ukiyo-e another generation of life, and illuminated it with one last burst of glory,” wrote author John Stevenson, reflecting a sentiment that Yoshitoshi himself may have intended in his death poem: “holding back the night / with its increasing brilliance / the summer moon.”
Yoshitoshi completed One Hundred Aspects of the Moon in the year of his death, 1892. Art curator Tamara Tjardes describes it as “a pilgrimage to Japan’s glorious past,” depicting “figures from Japanese and Chinese mythology, folklore, history, literature and theatre.” The series was so popular, she notes, that “townspeople were said to have lined up before dawn to buy a print of the latest image.”
Grave Marker Moon depicts the waka poet Ono no Komachi, once renowned for her physical beauty as well as her literary prowess. Japanese legend and popular culture have it that her arrogance was punished by destitution, and that in her old age she wandered the earth as beggar, her lovers having abandoned her. Yoshitishi envisions her seated upon a grave marker beneath the waning moon, reflecting upon a life filled with regret.