Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950) was, as one of my fellow visitors put it, “a Japanese bloke wot went to India”. Whilst there, Hiroshi travelled widely and made a series of wood block prints which are currently on display in the Ashmolean’s imaginatively titled Yoshida Hiroshi: A Japanese Artist in India exhibition.
Despite the classic style and timeless subject matter, there is something quintessentially 1930-ish about these prints which is reminiscent of the pictures of British India that adorn, or used to adorn, the walls of the old Oxford Girls’ Central School in New In Hall Street, although only the solitary image of the Victoria Memorial references the Raj. This is, however, the simplest image to copy (see above).*
Hiroshi is fascinated by light and several prints show the same scene at different times of day, a technique unique to printing. As well as the vivid intensity of midday (Snakecharmers), many images are set in the so-called “golden hours” beloved of photographers, giving us rose tinted dawns (Victoria Memorial), the thin early morning light of the Island Palaces of Udapur or the fading light of dusk over a resting camel train.
Stylistically, the most Japanese prints are the three views of Kangchenjunga (the world’s third highest mountain) at different times of day. Graduated shades of blue take us from dark valleys, through increasingly distant foothills to even more distant peaks, with only the cragginess of the snow capped mountain to indicate that we are far removed from the gentle volcanic slopes of Mount Fuji. The most Indian print is a splendid and ornate elephant that could have come straight from a Moghul wall painting.
Yoshida Hiroshi: A Japanese Artist in India is in Gallery 29 at the Ashmolean Museum until 13th Sepetember 2015, entry is free. For comparison, Moghul art is in Gallery 33.
*The original is rather better