Currently Documented Edition Signature and Seal Markings:
||+ Seal F
||+ Seal F
||+ Seal B
||[no seal on final process set sheet]
[For illustration of seals listed by seal code letter, see the Seals article.
For edition characteristics applicable to this series as a whole, see the Edition article.]
This woodblock print was produced from an original painting on silk dating from the late 1920s whose current location is unknown.
The indentification of this design as number 2 is original to Rakusan who published the print as the 2nd design in his series of one hundred woodblock prints called 楽山花鳥畫譜, Rakuzan Kachou Gafu
, lit. 'Rakusan's Flower and Bird Print Series'.
Edition I first printing details are known precisely because a copy of the delivery documents for installment one have survived.
The first printing run of about 200 copies was completed April 21, 1929 and the publication date was April 24, 1929 in installment one (of fifty).
However, additional edition I printings may have continued until as late as 1933.
The copy illustrated here is typical of edition I.
This design has always been among Rakusan's most popular and iconic images.
It sold well from the beginning and appears to have been reprinted more numerously than any other design in this series.
An edition II copy of 2 with seal F is one of three different edition II designs sold in late 1935, the earliest firmly documentated date for any edition II copies.
Other copies of 2 with seal F from edition II reprintings can only be dated approximately from between late 1935 and 1940.
Edition III copies typically have seal B (but no seal is found on the final process set sheet, see below).
The tan background is noticeably paler in this edition than in the earlier ones.
Edition III reprintings can only be dated approximately from between 1948 and 1955, but the early 1950s is most probable.
Although it is difficult to photograph accurately, later editions of 2 typically have paler backgrounds than the richly saturated reddish-gold tan of edition I copies.
Edition II copies may only be slightly muted from the original, but most edition III copies are a much lighter, neutral tan.
There is a printing anomaly in 2 which is more evident on later copies. Typically in edition I (as in the example copy included above), the sliver of background between the two legs of the bird on the right closely approximates the color of nearby background areas. However, in a few edition I copies that area is printed in a noticeably lighter color. In edition II and edition III this sliver is printed (or painted) in a thick bright white.
Rakusan was evidently particularly proud of design 2.
In 1933-1935 he designed a large, folded, handout card which he could distribute for advertising.
This commercially machine-printed card is called here the Publicity Flyer. It includes a black-and-white photographed thumbnail illustration of 2 as a representative of the recently completed woodblock print series.
Immediately below the illustration is an English language caption which is reproduced in part above. (Note that this version is neither an exact nor a complete translation of either Rakusan version of the Japanese title-caption. However, Rakusan would have had to rely on others to create the English text for the Publicity Flyer and on his own would have had no means of ensuring its accuracy.)
A complete process set for edition III of design 2 is preserved in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art (see below).
Only the final sheet of this twenty-three sheet process set is illustrated online.
This sheet is marked in large, bold print 'No. 23' in the upper margin and is signed but not sealed.
[For additional information on this and other Rakusan process sets, see the Process Set article
Copies in Public Collections:
Edition I: Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, HI, USA; (1938) 10999 [illustrated online].
Edition III Process Set: Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, HI, USA; (1991) 21637 [only the final sheet "No. 23" illustrated online].
Japanese Sweet Flag, Acorus gramineus
, 石菖, せきしょう, セキショウ, seki-shou
, lit. 'stone-iris', is an aquatic plant which is either a Japanese native or an anciently naturalized introduction.
It is often confused with the larger, but closely related, Common Sweet Flag, Acorus calamus
These plants have many popular names both in English and in Japanese, and the Publicity Flyer caption use of 'wild sweet flag' has guided the translations used here.
Shown among the leaves at lower left in 2 are the lighter yellow-green, elongate, rounded shapes of the flowering spikes of sweet flag.
The actual flowers are so tiny and grow so closely together on the shaft that the spikes appear soft and furry.
The title-caption for 2 has been recorded in two Japanese versions which Rakusan obviously intended as only stylistic variants.
In most circumstances altering the word order in the way Rakusan did here would be possible without changing the essential meaning.
However, in this particular circumstance he had apparently unknowingly encountered an exception.
The folio version, 石菖の花, sekishou no hana, lit. 'sweetflag flowers', does refer to flowers of Acorus gramineus as Rakusan intended.
Rakusan clearly thought that the final woodblock print version, 花石菖, hana-zekishou, lit. 'flowering sweetflag', would have the same meaning.
He apparently was unaware that hana-zekishou is instead the name for a different plant, Tofieldia nuda.
Although unrelated, both plants grow near water and their leaves appear similar, but their flowers are very different.
Tofieldia flower spikes are loose, open sprays of small, white, lily-like, starry flowers.
The etymology is that Tofieldia is a plant that looks like Acorus but instead has obvious showy flowers.
(Note that Tofieldia is called 'flowering sweetflag' as its regular name whether or not it is in bloom.)
Although Rakusan was unfamiliar with the Tofieldia name, this is not an instance where usage has subsequently changed, since both plants were similarly named in Rakusan's time.
Little Egret, Egretta garzetta, is today usually called 小鷺, こさぎ, コサギ, ko-sagi, lit. 'small heron'. Rakusan instead used used 白鷺, shira-sagi, lit. 'white-heron', which is a general name for any egret species. He also modified it with a rather poetic descriptor, 蓑, mino, 'straw raincloak', a type of old-style-rural rain protector. This refers to the way the breeding-plumage aigrettes stand out from the backs of the birds, rather like the way the stems stick out from the loose straw bundles used in the crude raincloak.