Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

Japan 1839 – 1892

The lonely house on Adachi Moor [Adachigahara hitotsuya no zu] 1885 Place made: Japan
Materials & Technique: prints, relief; colour woodblock print

Dimensions: 72.0 h x 24.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2008
Accession No: NGA 2008.774.A-B
  • In the folktale The hag of Adachigahara, a cannibalistic old woman preys upon travellers, particularly pregnant women and children, on the Adachi Moor in northern Japan. In this scene, the hag is sharpening the knife she will use to kill her heavily pregnant captive and the unborn child. Created in 1885, The lonely house on Adachi Moor is macabre but, by not showing the actual moment of violence, it is less bloody than some of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s earlier prints, such as those for the 1867 series Twenty-eight famous murders.

    Yoshitoshi is considered the greatest ukiyo-e woodblock print artist of the Meiji era (1868–1912). With periods of poverty and mental illness, the artist’s life may be seen to mirror the tumultuous times in which he lived. Japan was grappling with the demise of the Tokugawa shogunate, rice shortages, sporadic lawlessness and the new presence of Europeans and Americans. Yoshitoshi was concerned about the erosion of Japanese culture and chose to work with traditional themes, including horror—a popular genre in Japanese theatre, literature and art during the nineteenth century.

    While traditional in his choice of subject matter, Yoshitoshi was an innovator in style and technique, demonstrated by his masterful use of perspective and realism, his expressive line work and his bold adoption of the synthetic inks that began to replace vegetable colours in the 1860s. He created prints of great beauty and dramatic power. Yoshitoshi used a variety of formats, including the vertical oban diptych that is so effective in this work.

    Although one of Yoshitoshi’s most notorious prints, The lonely house on Adachi Moor is surprisingly rare. The Japanese authorities suppressed it when it was first released, and a planned second edition was never published. This acquisition complements the National Gallery of Australia’s existing collection of more than 60 Yoshitoshi prints, representing several themes of his diverse oeuvre from observational portraits of women to ghost stories.

    Beth Lonergan
    Assistant Curator, Asian Art
    in artonview, issue 57, autumn 2009

    in artonview, issue 57, autumn 2009