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 was completed April 21, 1929; and the publication date was April 24, 1929 in installment one (of fifty).
2 apparently sold well from the start since it needed to be reprinted at least once during the edition I period ending in mid 1933. It is likely that each of these edition I print runs had about two hundred copies. As a result of these and later reprintings, 2 is among the most numerous Rakusan woodblock print designs.
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.
For edition III Rakusan raised the position of the signature and seal combination above most of the foliage to make it more legible. (Note that no seal is found on the final process set sheet, see below.) All known edition III copies of 2 show the white pigment from the birds' feathers smeared to the right and covering the ends of the leaves in the area of the signature and seal. This uneven inking appears to be a mistake limited to a single edition III print run. Because so few edition III copies of 2 are documented, this was likely the only postwar reprinting. The dating of this print run would be sometime between 1948 and 1955, but the early 1950s is most probable.
Although it is difficult to photograph accurately, both 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 edition III copies are a much lighter, neutral tan.
There is a printing anomaly in 2 involving a sliver of what should be background between the two legs of the bird on the right. In the first print run (and most other early edition I copies; including the example above) the sliver is corrected to a dark color which approximates the color of nearby background areas. However, as in almost all later edition copies, in about twenty percent of edition I copies that area is instead a shade noticeably lighter than the background. It is difficult to separate edition I into two or more morphs because corrected colors vary considerably and intergrade. In some later edition II and edition III printings this sliver is overprinted (or painted) in a thick bright white. (Detail images taken with different cameras under different conditions.)
2 (edition I dark)
2 (edition I light)
2 (edition II white)
Rakusan was evidently particularly proud of design 2.
Circa1933 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:
|Final Sheet (No. 23) of an edition III 2 Process Set (Honolulu Museum of Art, (1991) 21637)
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.