ONE HUNDRED ASPECTS OF THE MOON, JAPANESE WOODBLOCK PRINTS BY YOSHITOSHI, Tamara Tjardes, Museum of New Mexico Press, $29.95, paperbound, 112 pages, 100 colorplates.
Tamara Tjardes, curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Collections at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, has assembled the Japanese woodblock print series "One Hundred Aspects of the Moon," by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-92).
He has also produced an exquisite book for which readers — because of its beauty — will ache.
Yoshitoshi is considered the last masters of the Ukiyo-e (Floating World) tradition, and his "One Hundred Aspects of the Moon" is regarded as the artist's greatest achievement. The book reproduces the master's prints as color plates, accompanied by the author's text for each image.
"One Hundred Aspects of the Moon" celebrates the past glory of Japan and is organized in three sections: Literature, Myth and Music; the Warrior; and the Floating World.
The book begins with a short biography of Yoshitoshi, putting the artist's career in context with the events taking place inside Japan. In her brief history of the Ukiyo-e tradition, Tjardes discusses how woodblock prints, once the most popular art form in Japan, had become passe as photography and lithography blossomed.
"In spite of this," Tjardes writes, "at the time of his death, Yoshitoshi was still considered the leading designer among his contemporaries. And today, with a resurgence of interest in and respect for his brilliance, Yoshitoshi is universally celebrated as one of the great masters of the Ukiyo-e tradition."
The print series "One Hundred Aspects of the Moon" epitomizes the restraint and subtlety that marks Yoshitoshi's mature work. The series was so popular that "townspeople were said to have lined up before dawn to buy a print of the latest image."
In his later years, Yoshitoshi's life and art were greatly influenced by the aesthetics of classical Noh drama, one of the most beautiful of Japanese literary forms. His "One Hundred
Aspects of the Moon" recalls subjects from Indian and Chinese legends, heroes of classic novels, famous musicians, and masters of haiku. Each woodblock image is rendered in the constructs of Noh play: Instead of portraying the story at the instant of a climactic deed, Yoshitoshi draws the moment just preceding it, or a poetic recollection of some past event.
To single out one or two of the woodcuts as best would diminish the rest, which cannot be done fairly. All these images are sumptuous in color, composition and written word.
Tjardes' "One Hundred Aspects of the Moon: Japanese Woodblock Prints by Yoshitoshi" is a lush book and for best reading should be perused during a quiet moment.