Yoshida Hiroshi (吉田博 1876-1950) was born Ueda Hiroshi, the second son of a former samurai. He took the surname of his adoptive father and public school art teacher, Yoshida Kasaburô. For two years (1893-95) Hiroshi studied Western-style painting in Kyoto with Tamura Sôritsu (1846-1918), his teacher's teacher, and continued his apprenticeship in that vein in Tokyo with Koyama Shôtarô (1857-1916). Yoshida first exhibited oil paintings in 1898, and won a cash prize for his first exhibition at the Detroit Museum of Art. The following year he traveled to the U.S., using the proceeds there from the sales of his Western-style watercolors to pay for his trip. He worked briefly with the publisher Watanabe Shôzaburô in 1920-22, but then traveled to the U.S. for a third time in 1923-25, when he visited Yosemite National Park and sketched the majestic El Capitan. When he returned to Japan, Yoshida established his own printmaking workshop, taking an entrepreneurial approach in marketing his works while maintaining very high standards of printmaking.
In the view of some scholars and critics, Yoshida Hiroshi applied a hybrid methodology for his printmaking, one that fell somewhere between neo-ukiyo-e Shin hanga ("new prints": 新版画), made with the traditional division of labor (artist, sketch copyist, block carver, printer, and publisher), and Sôsaku hanga ("creative prints": 創作版画), for which the artist was responsible, at least in principle, for all facets of print production. In a few instances Yoshida carved his own blocks and did the printing, but for the most part he employed highly trained printers and carvers, while always supervising and controlling the printmaking process from start to finish. During his long career he produced 259 print designs, as well as numerous watercolors, paintings, and drawings.
The design for El Capitan (the Japanese title was Yosemitto-dani Eru Kyapitan) was carved by Kazue Yamagishi (1891-1984), who also self-published many woodblock prints of his own designs. Kazue was a highly sought-after block carver who worked with (in addition to Yoshida Hiroshi) Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1968), Takehisa Yumeji (1884-1934), Kaburagi Kiyokata (1878-1972), Paul Jacoulet (1896-1960), Ishikawa Toraji (1875-1964), and for some book covers, Onchi Kôshirô (1891-1955). Yoshida Hiroshi, in his treatise titled Japanese Wood-block Printing (1939), noted that 6 blocks and 33 impressions were required to print the image.
The six prints in the United States series (Honolulu Aquarium; El Capitan; Grand Canyon; Niagara Falls; Mt. Rainier; Lake Moraine) were the first designs Yoshida made in his own Tokyo studio after he separated from Watanabe Shôsaburô, the great shin hanga publisher who had published and sold Yoshida's first eight designs.
This view of El Capitan is a much admired work. Our example includes the jizuri-e ("self-printed": 自摺) seals in the upper left margin, indicating that the artist supervised and approved the printing of this lifetime impression. Most unusual, our impression is incorrectly titled "Moraine Lake" and is the only impression we have ever seen that is mislabeled in this manner — a true collector's item!
- Ogura Tadao et al., The Complete Woodblock Prints of Yoshida Hiroshi (xxx). Abe Shuichi, 1987, p. 39, no. 10.
- Carolyn Putney (curator), et al., Fresh Impressions: Early Modern Japanese Prints. Toledo Museum of Art, 2013, p. 242, no. 221.
- There are many books and websites with information about Yoshida Hiroshida, as well as the Shin hanga movement. Readers are encouraged to explore these sources of information.