Currently Documented Edition Signature and Seal Markings:
||+ Seal B
[For illustration of seals listed by seal code letter, see the Seals article.
For edition and dating characteristics applicable to the entire series, see the Editions article.]
Indentification of this design as number 121 is original to Rakusan who designated this woodblock print as the 121st design published in his main sequence.
However, 121 is actually the twenty-first of thirty-six woodblock prints in Rakusan's second main sequence series,
篁子生画選, Koushisei Gasen
, lit. 'Koushisei's Print Selection' (usually called here the 36 Series
The woodblock print of 121 was adapted from an actual-size original painting on silk.
All of the original prototype paintings for this series are currently in a single private collection.
[Images of this painting 121-0 will eventually be posted here.]
As with most 36 Series designs, all known copies of 121 have the same signature and seal combination.
Therefore, for 121 only a single extended edition I (which includes reprintings both before and after World War II) can currently be distinguished.
It is usually only possible to date an individual loose print of 121 with edition I markings by listing approximate potential ranges of 1934-1941 and 1948-1955.
121 is one of several designs Rakusan printed using different colors and techniques within the same edition.
Almost all known copies of 121 are one of two distinct color morphs 121 (a) and 121 (b).
The copies illustrated above are typical examples of each of these color morphs and come from dated sales only a few months apart in 1935-1936.
Both illustrated copies are in the same pristine condition in the same private collection and were photographed at the same time and in the same way.
The 121 (a) morph has a very thin gray bokashi wash in the lower portion of the background and is printed on the usual, unmodified, creamy-white paper.
The 121 (b) morph omits the shading on the background.
Instead, the paper has been modified by the addition of a thin spongy coating which incorporates shiny particles, presumably powdered mica.
The particles on some copies of 121 (b) appear silvery (as in the illustrated copy above), and on others pearly-white.
The binder is as yet unidentified, and it most closely resembles the feel of a thin coating of styrofoam.
The coating covers only one surface of the paper, and the woodblock printing was done on top of this coating.
The same coating is also used for 119, and since both 121 and 119 are of winter subjects it is possible that the coating is meant to suggest a background of ice or snow.
The earliest 36 Series prints were delivered tipped into recessed wells of presentation sheets embossed in their lower margins with the series title 篁子生画選, Koushisei Gasen.
Because all early edition I prints once had these presentation sheets, a copy which retains its presentation sheet must have been printed during the 1930s.
(Both of the illustrated copies of 121 (a) and 121 (b) are on presentation sheets.)
After his supply of presentation sheets was exhausted, Rakusan distributed subsequently-reprinted copies loose.
A limited number of leftover earlier-printed copies of some designs on presentation sheets were still being distributed shortly after World War II, but by then most designs were only available as loose sheets.
However, because many early prints have subsequently been detached from their presentation sheets, absence of a presentation sheet is not in itself diagnostic of a later printing.
The Rakusan project which produced 篁子生画選, Koushisei Gasen
, resulted in two related series of woodblock prints.
Each print of the 36 Series
is intimately connected to a group of prints with the same subjects in the Fan Series
Together these subject-related prints in the two series constitute a theme.
Each theme normally consists of a quintet of monochrome Fan Series
designs (one design in each of the five fan shapes),
plus one polychrome, 36 Series
design which illustrates the theme subject.
The theme is labeled here by the original Rakusan number of its 36 Series
design followed by the subject.
121 is the 36 Series
design of the 121 Kumazasa Bamboo-grass and Pine
The Fan Series delivery documents for installment six in September 1934 announced that kumazasa bamboo-grass and pinecone designs would be published the following month. Those for installment seven confirm that the Fan Series prints of the121 Kumazasa Bamboo-grass and Pine theme were printed during October 1934 and distributed October 15, 1934 as part of installment seven (of twelve). On both sets of delivery documents Rakusan used the theme subject title 熊笹に松笠, kumazasa ni matsukasa, 'kumazasa bamboo-grass and pinecones', which is an appropriate title only for 36 Series design 121 published at the same time. Because Fan Series design 121-5A contains only pine seedlings and pine needles without pinecones, here a more general theme title 隈笹に松, kumazasa ni matsu, 'kumazasa bamboo-grass and pine', has been adapted (see below). The original spelling of Rakusan's title is used here only for the 36 Series design 121 for which it was devised.
The 121 Kumazasa Bamboo-grass and Pine theme has a complex history, and it has more individual designs than any other theme.
Rakusan had originally planned to have two separate themes, one for kumazasa bamboo-grass and one for pine.
Two of the four Fan Series pine designs have minor seal H which indicates carving dates around the third quarter of 1933 during the seal A period. The other six Fan Series designs, including two more pine designs and four kumazasa bamboo-grass designs, have seal C which indicates carving dates between the last months of 1933 and the end of the first quarter of 1934. Then Rakusan set both incomplete groups aside for several months.
In the middle of 1934 Rakusan changed his original plan and combined the two as a single compound theme.
He then painted 121-0 as the model for the 36 Series design 121 which included both original components.
The 36 Series design 121 was carved with seal B somewhat later and perhaps just before publication.
The resultant 121 Kumazasa Bamboo-grass and Pine compound theme has eight Fan Series designs, three more than the normal quintet. There are two designs each for fan shapes 1, 2, 4, and 5, but none for fan shape 3.
Using all eight designs from this compound theme meant that for installment seven to have exactly fifteen designs in three themes, the other themes included would have to have fewer designs than normal.
As a result, all three themes,119, 120, and 121 in installment seven have irregular numbers of Fan Series designs.
At least some of the pine designs may have been adapted from sketches originally created in the late 1920s during the planning of design 39 (and possibly also of design 9) in the earlier 100 Series.
Similarly, some of the kumazasa bamboo-grass designs may come from those for design 93 (and possibly also of designs 6 and 87). (See links below.)
The composition of 121 includes a section of bamboo-grass, four pinecones, and a scattering of pine seeds which have popped out of the cones.
All species of bamboo-grass (also called dwarf bamboo) are called ザサ, ざさ, 笹, sasa.
This Japanese name has been borrowed into scientific Latin as the genus name Sasa which has a much more restricted scientific meaning.
Kumazasa Bamboo-grass, Sasa veitchii , クマザサ, くまざさ, kumazasa, is a common species of dwarf bamboo which is cultivated both as an ornamental and as an ingredient in Asian herbal medicine.
The Japanese name for this species has been borrowed into English as Kumazasa, Kuma Zasa, Kuma Bamboo-grass, etc.
Today in Japanese the name is almost always written in kana, and there is dispute about the proper kanji etymology of kuma-zasa.
Rakusan always used 熊笹, lit. 'bear-bamboograss', which is now considered to be a folk etymology.
The modern interpretation is 隈笹, lit. 'shade-bamboograss', and that is the spelling used here.
A former name for this same species, Sasa albomarginata, White-margin Bamboo-grass, refers to the tips and edges of the dark green leaves which turn creamy white with the onset of cold weather. Note that the Fan Series kumazasa bamboo-grass designs are unusual in that they are not negatively reversed compositions.
In all four of these fan prints the areas of dark and light are as they are in nature, dark leaves with light margins and mostly light stems, just as on the 36 Series design 121. 121 is the only bamboo-grass design showing the horizontal (often underground) stem, probably indicating the assemblage is a studio still life.
The general name for all kinds of pine trees, Pine, Pinus, spp. is 松, まつ, マツ, matsu.
It is difficult to identify the exact species only from artwork of a pinecone.
The other pines illustrated in this theme most closely resemble the pine shown in 39.
However, in the title-caption for 39 Rakusan uses the general name 松 matsu with the descriptor 小, ko, 'small, young' which here refers to the age and/or size of the pine and is not a species designation.
In the future it might be possible to identify the pine species more closely.