[illustrated copy is edition I-b]

紫藤靑笹に巣乃小瑠璃(晩春) [on the print]

紫藤靑笹に巣の小瑠璃(晩春) [on the folio]

murasaki fuji aozasa ni su no koruri (banshun)

Purple Wisteria, Green Bamboo-grass, and Siberian Blue Robin Nest (Late Spring)


Original Number


Currently Documented Edition Signature and Seal Markings:
Edition I: 楽山居 Raku-zan Kyo + Seal F
Edition II: 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal F
Edition III: 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal B [no seal on process set sheets]

[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.]

Design History:
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 6 is original to Rakusan who published the print as the 6th 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 copies of the delivery documents for installments two and three have survived. Rakusan normally announced the prints due to be published the following month with each monthly installment. However, Rakusan initially intended to publish a different design in July 1929 and had announced that title in installment two in June. When that previously advertised design had to be delayed, Rakusan instead issued 6 in its place without the customary prior announcement. The first printing run of about two hundred copies was completed July 18, 1929, and the publication date was July 20, 1929 in installment three (of fifty).

6 is one of the very few Rakusan designs for which any printing details exist. The Foster booklet reports that 6 required 150 printing impressions to complete. Additional details regarding the exact sequence of particular impressions are known from the 6 Process Set (see below).

Unfortunately, in printing 6 (and several other designs in this series) Rakusan used a lavender pigment which is highly susceptible to sun-fading and will disappear entirely after only brief exposure to strong light. As a result, after loss of the lavender color the wisteria flowers may appear whitish, bluish, or greenish depending on the underprinting. Loss of the lavender pigment is a condition fault which adversely affects the value of the print. Therefore, framing and displaying 6 (or the other affected designs) is not recommended.

The intricate and complex Rakusan designs were very difficult to transfer accurately to wooden printing blocks. Therefore small carving errors not uncommonly create minor printing faults. Incorrectly carving away too much of the wood leaves unprinted areas where plain paper (or previous underprinting) shows through. Rakusan ignored these faults for most designs, but on a few, including 6, repairs were sometimes attempted. It is unclear whether the unprinted areas were colored using additionally carved blocks or simply painted in by hand.

On 6 there are two unprinted-area printing faults which Rakusan had tried to fix. Both are near the female bird in the nest. One is a triangular area above the head of the bird where a portion of the background is set off by the end of a bamboo leaf and bounded also by a wisteria bud and the edge of the nest. The other is the left wing-tip of the female bird which extends beyond the same wisteria bud.

Rakusan apparently caught and fixed the triangular area fault during the edition I first print run of 6, but missed the wingtip one. The resultant copies constitute the edition I-a morph. In a later reprinting (before mid 1933 and still during the edition I period) the wingtip fault was repaired in brown (instead of the expected blue). The copy illustrated above is typical of this further emended version, edition I-b.

6 was reprinted in both later editions, each of which continued the edition I-b wingtip modification. Edition II is similar in color to edition I-b and uses the same seal F (but with a different signature). There was at least one edition II reprinting in 1937, but others up to 1941 cannot be ruled out. Copies of edition II of 6 are known both with and without city-name stamps. Unusually, the location of the city-name stamp is inconsistent, and corner placements either at upper left or lower right are each documented.

Edition III differs from both earlier editions in having a paler tan background with more bokashi shading at the bottom (together with several other hue modifications). Oddly, the triangular area fault corrected on all edition I and edition II copies has been left unrepaired in edition III. Seal B is found on all edition III copies except those in the process set (see below). Edition III reprintings of 6 can only be dated approximately from between 1948 and 1955.

It has not yet been possible to photograph example copies of all four versions under the same conditions at the same time. The detail from the edition III copy below is an unfortunate example of sun-fading of the lavender pigment, but the other colors are accurate including the paler background color. The colors in the first three copies are actually much more closely similar than they appear in the following images:

6 (edition I-a detail)

6 (edition I-b detail)

6 (edition II detail)

6 (edition III detail)
[wingtip fault; background repaired] [both repaired] [both repaired] [wingtip repaired; background fault]

Process Set:
A complete process set for edition III of design 6 is in a private collection. This 6 process set has twenty-nine consecutively numbered sheets, each bearing the typical edition III watermark. [A detailed presentation of the entire process set is in preparation.]
[For additional information on this and other Rakusan process sets, see the Process Set article.]

Other Foster Information:
6 is among the most familiar Rakusan designs because of Walter Foster. In addition to marketing original Rakusan woodblock prints of 6 from Japan, Foster also sold two grades of reproductions which he had machine-printed in the USA. Both reproduction versions were created from the same original model, an edition II copy of 6 in Foster's personal collection. One version is a fine art reproduction produced for individual sale, and the other appears as the upper half of page 5 of the Foster booklet.

The fine art reproduction was produced to very high standards of photolithography on good quality, heavy matte paper; and the inks were carefully color-matched to those of the original woodblock print. Because of this attention to detail, it was relatively expensive, few copies were sold, and they are seldom encountered today.

Instead, what are mostly offered for sale as reproductions of 6 are actually copies of the upper half of page 5 cut from the Foster booklet. Regrettably, the booklet was inexpensively and inexactly machine-printed on semi-gloss paper, and its illustration colors are not true to the original. The entire booklet also has an artificial yellowish tinge overall. In addition the illustration of 6 on page 5 has been significantly cropped, removing parts of the original image on all four sides. This cropping eliminated the title-caption and the areas at upper left or lower right where a city-name stamp might have been placed.

Both reproduction versions are of similar size (listed as 7" x 9"); therefore they are much smaller than the original woodblock print (listed as 13" x 18"). (Only the fine art reproductions actually maintain the unique proportions of the original woodblock print; and the advertised dimensions are only rough average approximations.) Initially, Foster sold original woodblock prints of 6 for $25, fine art reproductions for $2, and the entire booklet (with 27 different designs) for $1. Because the Foster booklet was printed in great numbers and remains widely available today, it is usually much less expensive to buy the entire booklet than a single page reproduction.

Because Foster could not read Rakusan's Japanese title-captions, he made up ones of his own to use in the booklet. There he called 6 both "Wisteria and Blue Birds" and "Wistaria and Blue Birds"; in later booklet printings both spellings are on the same page.

[For additional general information on Foster, the booklet, or the fine art reproductions, see the Foster article.]

Copies in Public Collections:
Edition II: Whitworth University, Spokane, WA, USA; (2007) 2007.0091 [illustrated online]

Species Illustrated:
Purple Wisteria, Wisteria spp., 紫藤, murasaki-fuji, lit. 'purple wisteria', is one of several popular, and closely similar, ornamental vines. There are several species of wisteria, and most come in both purple and white varieties. (As noted above, the wisteria flowers in 6 were all originally printed using lavender-purple inks. Subsequent sun-fading and loss of the lavender pigment may give the mistaken impression of a deliberate color variation indicating a different variety of wisteria instead of a condition fault.) In addition to the native Japanese species, other species and hybrids are also commonly grown in Japan. Therefore, it is very difficult to identify the wisteria shown in 6 more narrowly.

The very general Japanese name for all species of bamboo-grass (also called dwarf bamboo) is 笹, ささ, ササ, sasa. Rakusan calls the variety illustrated in 6 靑笹, ao-zasa, lit. 'green bamboo-grass', but this name is not used today for any particular kind of bamboo-grass. Since some species have variegated leaves, it is possibly meant only to indicate a plant with solid colored leaves. [Note that in his title-captions, Rakusan used the older variant 靑 for which 青 has been substituted in the modern version.]

In this series Rakusan also used different varieties of bamboo-grass in designs 87 and 93 (see links below).

Siberian Blue Robin, Larvivora cyane, 小瑠璃, 小琉璃, こるり, コルリ, ko-ruri, lit. 'small lapis-lazuli', is the common modern name for this small, colorful, native species. Rakusan used this name in the title-caption for 6. However, he apparently also used the identical species with a different name in number 37 in this series (see links below).

Related Designs:
Other designs with "blue robins":
37alt 37

Other designs with wisteria:

Other designs with different varieties of bamboo-grass:
87 (nezasa) 93 (kumazasa)
121-1B (kumazasa) 121-2B (kumazasa) 121-4B (kumazasa) 121-5B (kumazasa) 121 (kumazasa)