月岡芳年 Tsukioka Yoshitoshi（1839-1892）
Steam Ships in France
木版画 | 三联续绘-纵绘大判 | 36.5cm×25cm×3
Woodblock-print | Triptych-Oban-tate-e | 36.5cm×25cm×3
Here is something very unusual: during his prolific career, Yoshitoshi was one of the Ukiyo-e artists producing Yokohama-e, or prints depicting the foreigners who'd recently begun to visit Japan. The prints portrayed, for the most part, the new arrivals in the foreign compounds in Yokohama, near Edo-Tokyo, which gave the genre its name. But in this fascinating triptych from 1866, Yoshitoshi lets his imagination run wild and takes the viewer to... France. This is what he believed France to look like. In the foreground, smartly dressed men and women await the arrival of a massive passenger ship powered by both steam and sail. (This was a brief period in maritime history when ships used hybrid power sources.) The slant of the masts hints at its speed, as does the smoke -- done in swirly Ukiyo-e style. Far in the distance we see Yoshitoshi's imagining of a fortified French port city.
But there is so much more here. Looking at the perspective and the attempt at western motifs, it would appear Yoshitoshi was trying to make a woodblock design resemble a lithograph, a printing technology just introduced in Japan that clearly intrigued him. And while many Yokohama-e depicted Westerners as uncouth and goofy, with giant noses and ridiculous moustaches. here they are stylish and urbane. The peaceful scene is also in direct contrast to the bloody scenes of battles and murders that Yoshitoshi was all producing around this time. We don't know if Yoshitoshi saw foreigners. We don't know if he saw their ships. We know he never went to France.
Early impression; fine condition; slight backing