THE WOODBLOCK PRINTS OF YOSHITOSHI, through November 11 at Shogun Gallery, 1083 Wisconsin Ave, NW. Monday through Thursday, 11-6; Friday through Sunday, 11-7.
With the arrogant gaze of a wizard, Lord Kiyomoni commands the setting sun to stop its descent. The temple he vowed to complete this day, to thank the gods for helping him vanquish a rival clan, is not ready.
The sun actually did pause on the horizon long enough for Kiyomoni to complete the temple, according to the legend -- but the sun retaliated by consuming the aged warrior with a painful, raging fever.
"Kiyomoni Beckoning Back the Sun" is from the "Incomparable Warrior" series of 19th centruy JaAnese ukiyo-e (woodblock print) by the master Yoshitoshi. This and other works from the latter part of his life are on view in a retrospective exhibit at the Shogun Gallery.
Yoshitoshi's life spanned many changes in Japan. In mid-career, he along with his country was swept from the isolationism of the Tokugawa shogunate to the restoration of the Imperial dynasty and the opening of trade with the West.
Many traditionalists saw the influx of western ideas and customs as a pollution of Japanese ritual and culture, including the art of ukiyo-e. Printmakers had become so adept that they could reproduce any painting or design, departing from the traditional view that the wood grain itself determined the print. Worse, foreign "barbarians" had introduced vibrant aniline dyes, vulgar and garish compared to the subtle vegetable dyes traditionally used.
Yoshitoshi straddled the line between tradition and innovation. He used both aniline and vegetable dyes and, unlike many of his colleagues, oversaw all phases of printmaking. While some believed his attention to anatomical detail, depth and persepective only demystified the art form, others thought his realism added life to his work.
A viewer can almost feel the gentle breeze loosening strands of hair from a courtesan's coiffeur as she gazes dreamily at the bay from her window. Her filmy sleeping kimono reveals the graceful curves of her breasts and shoulders.
But Yoshitoshi's appreciation of the duality of Japanese life is never keener than in ,Miho No Matsubara," the 11th of his "100 Views of the Moon." The veteran samurai warrior, resplendent in his crimson kimono and tiger skin-sheathed sword, abandons himself fully, before going into battle, to the serenity of a full moon over Mt. Fuju.